Where Does the GOP Go From Here?

John McCain no doubt woke up Wednesday morning asking himself the question that perpetually pesters all losing candidates the day after: What happened?

Trying to determine why once-faithful Republicans chose Tuesday to simply not turn up at the polls, or chose instead to vote for Democrat Barack Obama, is not just a question for the candidate but for the entire party.

Fewer Republicans turned out to vote Tuesday than in any election in 28 years, a key component to the party's crushing defeat in which it lost control of the White House and allowed the Democrats to maintain control of Congress.

John McCain

Obama beat McCain in the key states of Florida, Virginia and Ohio, all of which went red in 2004.

"The biggest question for Republicans is what this means," said Dan Schnur, a former McCain adviser and a professor of political science at UC Berkeley. "Are we going to get over this quickly, or will it take years to make fundamental changes and come to terms about where we stand as a party?"

GOP insiders are pointing fingers the day after Election Day at many of the specters that haunted the McCain campaign for months -- an association with an unpopular president, an unpopular war, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and a candidate who was never fully embraced by his own party.

Just 28 percent of McCain voters were "excited" about the prospect of his becoming president, according exit polls. By contrast, twice as many Obama supporters, 56 percent, were excited about the prospect of an Obama presidency.

An inability to turn out its supporters and an uncertainty about why leaves the party on the shakiest ground in two decades, with GOP insiders speculating where the party goes from here.

"We're all focused on the history nature of Barack Obama's candidacy, but the other story here is that Republicans simply stayed home," said ABC News political consultant and former Pentagon spokesperson Torie Clarke. "Obama didn't do extraordinarily better with young and first-time voters; the Republican Party's base just didn't turn out."

What Went Wrong for McCain?

Democratic turnout on Election Day outnumbered Republicans by 7 points, 39 percent to 32 percent -- the smallest Republican turnout since 1980.

It was concerns about the economy that lost the election for McCain, and no amount of additional funding to catch up with the millions Obama spent in advertising could have made up for it, Clarke said.

But even amid such a crisis, another candidate more popular with the GOP's many and sometimes fractious factions -- particularly social conservatives -- could have at least gotten people to show up, she said.

"McCain has always had an uneasy relationship with Republicans," Clarke said, "but that he could not speak to the base of the party raises questions about both his message and the people who were receiving it."

"The party is going to wander around in the wilderness for a while as it works on what its message should be. It will not necessarily be a simple or clean process," she said.

According to Schnur, it is too early to tell if Republicans who flipped for Obama will remain loyal like those Democrats who voted for Reagan in 1980 and again in 1984.

"We'll have to see how Obama performs before we'll know. Unlike swing voters who switched, Republicans just were not motivated," he said.

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