How many mistakes did Republicans make in the 2012 political season? They are so numerous, it is hard to count.
Probably the biggest lesson from Tuesday's election is that a party cannot back a candidate who has been on all sides of every issue. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was for abortion rights before he was against them. He was for health care reform before he was against it. And so on. His campaign will evoke the memory of the Etch-a-Sketch toy, based on an unfortunate but oh-so-true remark by a Romney campaign aide who explained that his candidate would transition from the extremely conservative positions he'd taken during the primary by shaking the Etch-a-Sketch, erasing the picture and starting all over again.
This is not the 1970s and former President Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy" is no longer viable. A candidate simply cannot pick up enough Electoral College votes by cobbling together most of the South and much of the Midwest and ceding the big cities on both coasts to the other side.
Ah, and then let's remember that abortion rights and access to contraception are now critical issues for women voters. That has not been the case since the 1980s.
But when a string of Republican congressional candidates came out with a series of unbelievably backward statements about contraceptives, female biology, rape and pregnancy, women voters took notice. Democrats have been waiting for decades to work reproductive rights back into the national political dialogue, and candidates Todd Akin of Missouri, Richard Mourdock of Indiana and Joe Walsh of Illinois did it for them.
Women made history in Congress this week.
Republican Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Democrats Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota won their respective races for U.S. Senate, bringing to 19 the number of seats women will hold in that chamber. Baldwin also will be the first openly gay senator. New Hampshire will have an all -female congressional delegation, and the state's voters elected Democrat Maggie Hassan to be its governor.
Among women voters, 54 percent supported Obama and 44 percent chose Romney. The coalition that allowed Democrats to recapture the White House and maintain control of the Senate was made up of women, young voters, Hispanics, African-Americans, urban voters and college-educated voters. That is the coalition of tomorrow as we become a much more diverse nation.
Republicans, however, were not without their victories. They maintained control of the U.S. House and the vast majority of governorships.
Republicans must decide within the next few months whether they want to build a base made up of religious conservatives and older white voters. No party ever wants to drop a constituency that helps make up its base. But Republicans face intrinsic problems if they want to try to keep these groups.
Religious conservatives will not stick with the GOP if it doesn't maintain its hard-line stance on social issues, the old "God, guns and gays" trilogy. Young Americans simply don't see a problem with same-sex marriage; as long as GOP politicians campaign against it, they will continue to lose young voters. The same is true, to a lesser extent, of reproductive rights.
I have been saying for a long time that the GOP coalition of the future is also one of the GOP coalitions of the past. Republicans need to emphasize fiscal issues and de-emphasize socially conservative issues. They need to return to the days of the so-called Rockefeller Republicans. Do I believe they will do that? No, I think they're going to have stomach more significant losses until they learn their lessons.
Bonnie Erbe, a TV host, writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service.