Will Demographics Doom the GOP?
In its desire to win current elections, the Republican Party is sacrificing its future, aiming its message at a shrinking white male base. Efforts to construct the party as a “big tent,” with the objective of encouraging diversity in its members, ended some time ago. Ignoring the demographic changes that are staring the party (and everyone else) in the face, the GOP is performing a dance of death, alienating non-whites who will soon form a majority in America.
The latest census data showed that only 49.6% of births in the U.S. came from non-Hispanic whites in the twelve month period ending last July. Hispanics, Asians, African-Americans and those of mixed race accounted for 50.4%. This was the first time in history that non-white births comprised a majority.
Census figures show that a number of states already have non-white majorities, including Hawaii, California, Texas and New Mexico, with Hawaii’s being over 77%. Maryland, Mississippi, Georgia, New York and Arizona have non-white populations over 40% and may reach a tipping point shortly. However, aside from Hawaii and New Mexico, political power for the most part has remained with the Caucasian establishment. This is because non-whites do not register or go to the polls in proportion to their numbers, a situation that can be expected to change in the future.
Many of the GOP’s actions to energize its base antagonize minorities. From a political standpoint, memories of aggrieved groups can last decades or more, as shown by African-American attachment to the Republican Party after the Civil War and white Southerners backing for the Democrats.
Anti-immigrant rhetoric has been flowing from Republicans for many years. They are responsible for blocking attempts to provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, including the Dream Act, while pushing stronger border controls. (Senator Marco Rubio’s watered-down substitute for the Dream Act was not embraced by many of his fellow Republicans.) The concept of amnesty in any form is anathema to nativists within the GOP and the party has not been able to come up with a realistic plan to deal with the 12 million or so undocumented immigrants already in our country. They have consistently demonized Hispanic immigrants, and state legislation passed by Republicans to catch undocumented immigrants, has singled out Hispanics for intrusive scrutiny, including those who are citizens.
President Obama’s recent move to eliminate deportation of young Hispanics who were brought to this country illegally by their parents may have been politically motivated, but it resonated with the Hispanic community. The GOP has attacked Obama and his motives for this action but has not offered any alternative plan.
Various Voter ID laws enacted by Republican state legislatures supposedly to reduce voter fraud are also aimed at minorities, hoping to keep them from casting their ballots. Poor African-Americans and Hispanics often don’t have drivers’ licenses and can’t afford to pay for photo identification that would allow them to register to vote. And Hispanic citizens may stay away from the polls out of fear of being hassled by the authorities. While these measures may help Republicans win elections today, they will make it more difficult to recruit minority voters to the party’s banner in the future.
The Republican push to balance the federal budget by draconian cuts to programs that are particularly beneficial to low-income people, such as Medicaid, SCHIP, Head Start and educational grants and loans, are also a poke in the eye to minorities, no matter how well meaning and necessary they may seem.
Here and there over the last decade, the GOP has had an occasional African-American or Hispanic officeholder or spokesperson, but the party and its power structure are overwhelmingly white. And with code words, rhetoric, state and national legislation, the party’s greatest appeal is to its white base. Until the Republicans acknowledge with appropriate actions and a change in discourse that the future of America is as a global, multi-ethnic society, they risk fading into irrelevance, with the Democrats becoming a strong majority party. Perhaps a new political party will even arise from the Republican ashes, as the GOP did from the embers of the Whig Party in the 1850s. Their current course is unsustainable.
A VietNam vet and a Columbia history major who became a medical doctor, Bob Levine has watched the evolution of American politics over the past 40 years with increasing alarm. He knows he’s not alone. Partisan grid-lock, massive cash contributions and even more massive expenditures on lobbyists have undermined real democracy, and there is more than just a whiff of corruption emanating from Washington. If the nation is to overcome lockstep partisanship, restore growth to the economy and bring its debt under control, Levine argues that it will require a strong centrist third party to bring about the necessary reforms. Levine’s previous book, Shock Therapy For the American Health Care System took a realist approach to health care from a physician’s informed point of view; Resurrecting Democracy takes a similar pragmatic approach, putting aside ideology and taking a hard look at facts on the ground. In his latest book, Levine shines a light that cuts through the miasma of party propaganda and reactionary thinking, and reveals a new path for American politics. This post is cross posted from his blog.