They also believe that Republicans will have learned the lesson from their posture of opposition during Obama's first term, and already on Tuesday night it was clear that Republicans would be entering a period of reflection and recrimination about what happened and how they should respond. Republicans now must contend with the reality that they lost what seemed like an optimum opportunity to defeat an incumbent president.
Before the votes were counted, some Republicans argued that Romney would have a better chance of changing the status quo in Washington than Obama, that the president's first term created near-irreparable relations with the Republicans. Former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour said early Tuesday that he hoped Obama would change if reelected, but he said he doubted that would be the case. "I think he's an ideologue," he said. "I hope I'm wrong."
Obama will now have the opportunity to show his true colors, in terms of both his ideological convictions and his ability to produce the kind of cross-party consensus he said he yearns to create.
Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution argued that, given the divisions in the country, campaigns cannot produce mandates. It is too risky, he said, to campaign on a bold agenda for dealing with problems that have resisted resolution for decades.
"In this polarized, highly competitive environment, it's the best way to kill your proposals, if not lose the election," he said. "It's the kind of grubby work that has to be done after the election."
That is now Obama's challenge. Since the debt-ceiling debacle, he has been running full time for reelection, and he unleashed a campaign far different in tone and tenor than his first. Now, with another term assured, he will be judged on how well he governs the second time around.