Jon Chait wrote an excellent post the other day on the emerging (or emerged, if you want to be more optimistic about it) Democratic majority. I recommend the whole thing, but this in particular stuck out to me:
What is going on is a change, rooted mainly in demographics, that is making the traditional conservative formula obsolete. The New Deal established a positive role for the federal government in taming the excesses of the market, and the consensus was strong enough that even Republican presidents didn’t challenge it. But the politics of the New Deal began to fall apart in the mid-sixties over race, when middle-class whites began to see the Democratic agenda as transferring resources from people like themselves to undeserving blacks. The political strength of conservatism, which is not the same thing as its intellectual merits, has been its sublimated cultural appeal to white America. Starting in the mid-sixties, American politics entered a three-decade-long period of conservative dominance.
The pendulum has been swinging back, in part because “Bill Clinton helped Democrats to undercut the appeal of white backlash politics by repudiating racially tinged liberal positions on crime and welfare,” essentially making the Democratic Party “safe” for soft racists again, but also because white America generally has been moving leftward along with the rest of the country.
But it’s pretty clear that racial (and racist) politics is still a significant driving force in the Republican Party. Just look at what was going on last week, with Romney blaming Obama’s “gifts” to minorities (among others) and Ryan blaming urban (dog-whistle-speak for minorities) voters for their defeat. (And, much lower down the GOP hierarchy, the chairman of Maine’s Republican Party talking about those “dozens, dozens of black people who came in and voted on Election Day.”) And who can forget Bill O’Reilly on election night lamenting the demise of the white establishment?
One could go on and on. (Jon Stewart got into it, nothing that the perceived threat to whites, and specifically to the white establishment, Mr. O’Reilly, used to be the Irish.)
There has been a lot of discussion of demographics since the election, including changes to the ethnic composition of the country likely to help the Democrats going forward. But the other side of that, as has been clear for some time, is that the Republican Party is increasingly the party of white America, and more specifically of white rural America, a party stuck in the past, a dominantly white past, and completely at odds with where the country is headed. Yes, the country seems to be getting more and more liberal (e.g., on marriage equality), but it’s also becoming less and less white. And that portends utter disaster for the GOP, which is why some, like Bobby Jindal, are rejecting Romney’s ridiculous (and racist) explanation and seeking to move the party in a different direction.
But any such effort will take time, if it ever succeeds at all. The Republican Party is still the party of the Southern Strategy, after all, and racism pervades not just the ranks of the party’s elected officials but the highest ranks of movement conservatism. Indeed, as Conor Friedersdorf wrote shortly after the election, Republicans must choose between Rush Limbaugh and minority voters.
What will they choose? Your guess is as good as mine.
(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)