In 1964 it was said about conservative icon Barry Goldwater, “He’d rather be right than President.” In 2014 the new slogan may be: it seems as if the Republican Party would rather be White than win the Oval Office. That’s the gist of political wiz Charlie Cook’s analysis:
After Republicans won only 48 percent of all votes cast for the House in 2012 but 54 percent of the seats, it’s no secret that the party enjoys the huge built-in structural advantages in the chamber that Democrats had going for them decades ago.
In a January memo, veteran GOP pollster Bill McInturff observed, “If you began your career as a Republican trying to win the House in the 1970s and 1980s, you would adopt, as I do, the borrowed adage, ‘There’s no crying in redistricting.’ ” The current unprecedented geographic concentration of Democratic voters was compounded by the 2010 wave election that gave Republicans unprecedented power in state legislatures to redraw political boundaries. Combined, these two demographic developments cast doubt on whether even a 2006-size wave would enable Democrats to win control of the House at any point this decade.
But could the Republicans’ arguably rigged House majority actually be a curse disguised as a blessing? It’s an interesting question. They clearly did everything they could to purge Democratic voters from their districts ahead of 2012, no matter whether those voters were white, black, Hispanic, left-handed, or right-minded—just as Democrats would have done had the roles been reversed. But in the process of quarantining Democrats, Republicans effectively purged millions of minority voters from their own districts, and that should raise a warning flag. By drawing themselves into safe, lily-white strongholds, have Republicans inadvertently boxed themselves into an alternate universe that bears little resemblance to the rest of the country?
Fresh 2010 census data by congressional district, compiled by The Cook Political Report’s House editor, David Wasserman, provides some numerical food for thought.
Between 2000 and 2010, the non-Hispanic white share of the population fell from 69 percent to 64 percent, closely tracking the 5-point drop in the white share of the electorate measured by exit polls between 2004 and 2012. But after the post-census redistricting and the 2012 elections, the non-Hispanic white share of the average Republican House district jumped from 73 percent to 75 percent, and the average Democratic House district declined from 52 percent white to 51 percent white. In other words, while the country continues to grow more racially diverse, the average Republican district continues to get even whiter.
As Congress has become more polarized along party lines, it’s become more racially polarized, too.
What do all these numbers boil down to? House Republicans have done a remarkable job of “sequestering” Democrats into the minority, but in the process they’ve also reduced their own incentive to reach out to groups their party badly needs if it wants to stay relevant beyond the Southern confines of the Capitol. Sure, Republicans have plenty of incentive to don those aprons at local Rotary and Kiwanis barbecues. But if half of politics is simply showing up, how many fewer GOP legislators have strong reasons to shake hands or kiss babies at Puerto Rican Day parades, Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemorations, or Asian food festivals? For many casual voters, these kinds of events might be the only opportunity to put a face to a name on a ballot; for young people, these nonpolitical events can be where partisan attachments take shape. Given the nation’s demographic trajectory, Republicans might want to take note—and show up.
The prospect continues to be this: it’ll take a lot for Democrats to re-take the House and it’ll be increasingly hard for the Republican Party if it’s mostly oriented towards white voters and following the desires of CPAC, the Tea Party movement, and powerful radio and cable talk show hosts to re-take the White House.
Precisely where do they add new members to their coalition — particularly when CPAC’s chairman envisions THIS KIND of party tent?