Monday, November 12, 2012

If Demographics Is Destiny, The GOP Is Screwed Unless It Is Willing To Change

The Republican Party as it exists today in all its extremist glory will never win another presidential election. 
If that reality is to change -- and it must change, Democratic schadenfreude aside, because there must be a viable two-party system -- then the GOP's long slog back toward the political mainstream should begin by partnering with President Obama to prevent the country from going off the so-called budget cliff.  This should be followed by a coup d'etat by party moderates against the Tea Partiers to whom the party is in thrall.  Alas, I have little expectation that either will happen because it just isn't in the party's DNA, which means that Republicans will wander ever deeper into the electoral wilderness. 
Beyond African-Americans, President Obama's victory last week was greased by winning over Hispanic and Asian-American voters in huge numbers, as well as a majority of women and voters under 30.   This formidable coalition enabled him to win several swing states, which is to say the election. 
The president won just 39 percent of the white vote and just 44 percent of the vote of people 65 and older, but he won 93 percent of the black vote (representing 13 percent of the electorate), 71 percent of the Latino vote (10 percent), 73 percent of the Asian-American vote (3 percent), and 60 percent of voters aged 18 to 29 (19 percent). 
Minorities have accounted for 85 percent of the U.S.'s population growth over the past decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, making us truly a rainbow nation, and changes in the makeup of the electorate have come with lightning speed. Republicans have not won as many electoral votes as Obama did since George H.W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis in 1988.  Translation: The GOP's Southern strategy of appealing to white voters had been failing for years but has now hit the wall. 
Party leaders can't be surprised that Mitt Romney tanked with Latinos.  They took a calculated risk to draw in more conservatives and that backfired badly. 

"For the first time in U.S. history, the Latino vote can plausibly claim to be nationally decisive," said Stanford University university professor Gary Segura.
Republicans were repeatedly warned by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and others that taking a hard line on immigration was a dangerous tactic.  Yet for four decades the GOP has pursued a strategy of attracting huge majorities of white male voters and winning just enough other voters to carry the day. George W. Bush and John McCain were attacked for making overtures to immigrants that might antagonize the party's base, while Romney, as was his wont, was on several sides of the issue.
"Before, we thought it was an important issue, improving demographically," said Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union. "Now, we know it’s an essential issue. You have to ignore reality not to deal with this issue." 
Cardenas, a former chairman of the Florida Republican Party, said his party would never earn Latino support until it found a new way to address illegal immigration.
"We need to check off that box; we need to get immigration reform done in 2013," he said.  "We need to show that Republicans are willing to sit at the table and reach a compromise that is in keeping with what the Hispanic community wants and needs." 
Yet some Republican leaders and the party's punditocracy are minimizing their Latino problem because, after all, the popular vote was close. 
As the reliably vile Bill O'Reilly opined on Fox News, "It’s a changing country, the demographics are changing.  It’s not a traditional America anymore, and there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama."
That not only is false, it ignores a super-sized reality:  Women make up 53 percent of the electorate. Many are coveted independents and view the GOP as deeply unfriendly to them, the result of which is that Obama beat Romney by a 55 to 44 percentage point margin among women.
In Indiana and Missouri, where woman voters tend to be conservative, Republicans lost sure-thing Senate contests because of their male candidates' deeply distorted views of rape even as many of those voters went for Romney, who carried both states. 
In Wisconsin, a majority of women went for a liberal lesbian for Senate over a male former governor.  In Connecticut, they went for a male Democrat for Senate over a conservative woman, and in Massachusetts they went for a woman Democrat for Senate over an incumbent male Republican.  All three Democrats won.
"We have a significant problem with female voters," acknowledged John Weaver, a senior Republican strategist. Unsympathetic comments about rape by Todd Akin in Indiana and Richard Mourdock in Indiana "did not seem foreign to our party," Weaver said. "They seemed representative of our party." 
That perception was fueled by the focus on social issues affecting women by many congressional Republicans, including opposition to abortion and to contraception, which is not just counter intuitive but profoundly stupid.

House Republicans entered the election with just 24 congresswomen, but that number will fall to 21 or 20.  There were 52 congresswomen among House Democrats, and that number will rise to 61 in the next Congress.

While one Republican woman will join the Senate in January, Democrats will add four women. There are currently 17 women in the Senate and only three of them are Republicans. One is retiring.
Meanwhile, opposition to another demographic -- gays and lesbians and the issue of same-sex marriage -- has long been a favorite wedge issue for so-called family values Republicans but now merely highlights their bigotry.  This is because a growing majority of voters don't give a fig about someone's sexual orientation.

The GOP must shed its ideological cocoon to survive, let alone grow beyond being a party of angry white men and dutiful wives that has relatively little clout outside the South. 
And it must understand that policy positions that may seem favorable to minorities are not enough.  It is also about respecting people no matter their skin color or gender, something that Obama emphasized over and over again in his stirring Election Night victory speech.  That means ditching the self-righteous demagogy and calling out Republicans who can't help themselves.
"If demographics is destiny," wrote columnist RenĂ©e Loth in The Boston Globe, "the Republican Party has a rendezvous with irrelevance — unless its policies change."


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