For Republicans, it is clearly focus time. Every time a party loses the White House, a reassessment is in order. Of course, it is far simpler to be persuaded when a party has met with failure. Very few within the GOP saw Nov. 6 coming.
As in 1948, they wished for bottles that went uncorked. No doubt Romney's campaign coordinator felt like Herbert Brownell, who declared "1948 is definitely a Republican year," only hours before Harry Truman claimed victory.
But 1948 was no mandate, and neither is 2012. President Obama must resist the mistake George W Bush made in 2004, which was to over-read the returns. It marked an impressive comeback from 2010, but restoring some measure of credibility does not give Obama a green light to do anything that pops into his head.
Republican leaders in the House and Senate also should not interpret the modest victory for any moral triumph either. The Republicans cannot afford to be seen as grinches with declarations of "never" or "shall not pass" on their lips.
Certainly Democrats would be smart to take the measure of their Republican colleagues rather than trying expensive legislative projects. Obama's declaration in 2009 that elections have "consequences" is a nice school yard taunt, but one that should not be repeated. A slow approach playing in the potential divisions in the GOP is in order. Certainly the approach of President Dwight D. Eisenhower - currying favor with Republicans who are eager to abandon the politics of obstruction - is the right path.
Take John Boehner. Clearly, he desires more amity, but he has red-hots in his caucus that no doubt see the election as a partial vindication for the Tea Party. Even Mitch McConnell will listen to Lindsey Graham and Saxby Chambliss if he again senses the political dangers coming from being perceived as placing the party first.
But this is a game that Obama will have to play with patience and aplomb. To snipe with the Tea Party bomb throwers would be ineffective. For Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, the charge will be to urge their members to resist grandstanding. Reasonableness was a preceptor that helped Democrats make gains in tight races. In the Senate, they played the percentages and won seats where they should have lost. Tea Partiers have shown a propensity for winning low profile House races. When it goes statewide, they fail miserably. The large Democratic class of 2007 largely survived, denying Republicans an ideal opportunity. Good candidates are available. This year the Democrats did an excellent job in recruitment.
Although they held onto the House, Republicans did so largely because of the miracle of redistricting. In the Southern legislatures, they continued to block out blue dog Democrats opting for large districts that favored African-American candidates. Despite having a net loss, Republicans took false comfort in keeping their majorities the old-fashioned way: through gerrymandering.
Obama, however, has an advantage in that moderate Republicans have been chastened, as well as the fact that demographics are continuing to plague Republicans. Arizona and North Carolina could begin to look like Virginia and Colorado. The Republicans may have not suffered a catastrophic defeat, but they have been warned. Assuming the electoral dynamics are those of 2004 is taking a foolish bet. If they continue to delude themselves by listening to Dick Morris and Scott Rasmussen, more defeats are in their future. With Karl Rove, they will be like the two investors in the movie "Trading Places," demanding the machines be turned on again.
Democrats should allow the dynamics of Republican internal politics to play out, resisting the temptation to get involved. Do not interfere with an opponent trying to figure out how to remain relevant.