By Dana Milbank
WASHINGTON — And now begins the quadrennial exercise of coming to terms with the loss of a presidency.
For the second time in a row, Republicans are the grieving party proceeding through the five stages.
Denial. “I think this is premature,” Karl Rove protested on Fox News election night, after the cable network, like other news outlets, correctly projected that President Obama had won Ohio — and therefore the presidency. “We’ve got to be careful about calling things.”
Bargaining. “We’re willing to accept new revenue under the right conditions,” House Speaker John Boehner offered Wednesday, shifting his budget negotiating posture before reconsidering the next day, but “the president must be willing to reduce spending and shore up entitlement programs.”
Depression. “If Mitt Romney cannot win in this economy, then the tipping point has been reached,” Ann Coulter said on Laura Ingraham’s radio show. “It’s over. There is no hope.”
Anger. “We should have a revolution in this country,” tweeted flamboyant mogul Donald Trump, who had served as a prominent surrogate for Romney. “This election is a total sham and a travesty.”
Acceptance. Uh, well, there hasn’t been much of that yet.
Before arriving at acceptance, Republicans must go through another stage of grief unique to political loss: an extended period of finger-pointing known as the recriminations phase. Only after this period of excuses is it possible to arrive at the plain truth of the matter: that the electorate wasn’t buying what they were selling. But first, it is necessary to blame:
The weather. “Hurricane Sandy saved Barack Obama’s presidency,” Haley Barbour, the Mississippi governor and former Republican Party chairman, informed NBC’s Matt Lauer.
The governor of New Jersey. “A lot of people feel like Christie hurt, that we definitely lost four or five points between the storm and Chris Christie giving Obama a chance to be bigger than life,” one of Romney’s biggest fundraisers told The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker.
Senate candidates in Missouri and Indiana. “Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, and Chris Christie undermined the Republican message,” a Romney adviser told National Review.
Karl Rove. “Congrats to @KarlRove on blowing $400 million this cycle,” the Twitter-happy Trump tweeted. “Every race @CrossroadsGPS ran ads in, the Republicans lost.” Actually, a study by the Sunlight Foundation found that Rove’s super PAC had a 1 percent success rate.
The candidate’s personality. “If you put out a guy who is enormously unlikable, who is a caricature of a distant and out-of-touch technocrat, then he’s going to run poorly,” deduced Ben Domenech of the conservative blog RedState.
The candidate’s management skills. “Many Republicans are also questioning whether Romney was personally engaged enough in key decisions,” Politico reported.
Staff incompetence. “They were a bunch of well-meaning folks who were, to use a phrase that Gov. Romney coined to describe his opponent, way in over their heads,” a member of Romney’s national finance committee told Rucker.
Staff deception. “There was … a lot of smoke and mirrors from Team Romney and outside charlatans, many of whom will now go work for Republican super PACs making six-figure salaries, further draining the pockets of rich Republicans,” RedState’s Erick Erickson wrote.
GOP leaders. “Republican leaders behind the epic election failure of 2012 should be replaced,” declared conservative activist Richard Viguerie at the National Press Club, singling out party chairman Reince Priebus, Boehner and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
Country-club Republicans. “The presidential loss is unequivocally on them,” said Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Patriots.
The Republican Party’s moderation. “We need a third party to save this country,” Herman Cain said in a radio appearance.
Failing to talk about foreign policy and Obamacare. “Those are major issues and Romney rarely mentioned them in the final days,” a Romney adviser said to National Review.
Failing to talk about abortion. “Mitt Romney … never highlighted this vulnerability,” complained Marjorie Dannenfelser of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List.
Relying on old people. “The Democrats do voter registration like a factory, like a business, and Republicans tend to leave it to the blue hairs,” said Henry Barbour, nephew of the former Mississippi governor, according to the Huffington Post’s Jon Ward.
After Republicans work through the blame, they can get down to the real reason for the loss, and it has nothing to do with Romney, his staff or the weather. Once Republicans can accept this — that their alienation of Latinos and women is shrinking the party into a coalition of white men concentrated in the South — they can begin to do something about it.
Dana Milbank is a Washington Post columnist. His email address is email@example.com.