Whatever happens in the presidential race – which at this moment remains unsettled – it's clear that liberals have won major arguments in this campaign on abortion rights and immigration, two issues on which the Republican Party is largely beholden to its conservative base.
Republican senatorial candidates Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana refused to allow exceptions to their anti-abortion stances for women who were raped – and ended up losing races the national Republicans had long counted in the win column. Each did an astonishingly poor job explaining their abortion position, with Akin flunking basic biology in suggesting that women can never be impregnated by rape, and Mourdock declaring that such pregnancies were God's will. But the bottom line is that voters, even in historically red states, don't share their views.
In case there was any doubt that a no-exceptions opposition to abortion was politically dangerous, Mitt Romney insisted that his running mate, Paul Ryan, agree to support exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother, at least for the purposes of their joint campaign.
Meanwhile, during the Republican primaries, Romney took a strong stance against illegal immigrants, bashing his rivals Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry for being insufficiently tough on undocumented workers and their children. He vowed to veto the DREAM act, which would allow the children of illegal immigrants to become citizens if they joined the military or went to college, and to deny such children the benefits of in-state tuition at public universities.
These stances boomeranged on Romney when Latino voters turned on him, giving up to 70 percent of their support to President Obama in polls. As Romney waits out a difficult evening, hoping to make up ground against President Obama in states like Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado, he knows that the harshness of his anti-illegal immigration stance hurt him badly.
It would surprise me, and many other political observers, if the Republican party ever again makes illegal immigration a wedge issue on the national level.