The Coming Republican Minority
With all the talk about how Obama is not doing well and that the Democrats are expected to lose seats in November, it’s not surprising that there are a lot of Republicans thinking that everything is coming up roses for them. All the talk of a decades-long Democratic majority has dried up and the GOP seems energized by the growing Tea Party movement. The recent wins by Nikki Haley and Tim Scott also show a party that at least seems more acceptable to women and minorities.
But while I believe that the Democrats will lose seats in Congress in the fall, and while I believe it is a good thing to see a woman of Indian-origin and an African American man win in South Carolina, I fear that things are not all well for the party that I have call home. There are serious demographic issues that the Grand Old Party has not dealt with, and if they refuse to do any time soon, they will be in a world of hurt.
Tom Schaller over at Five Thirty Eight reviews a report by Ruy Teixeria about the future of the GOP. Now Teixria is a committed Democrat, but that doesn’t discount what he has to say. Schaller did a good job of summarizing the paper and basically says that demographic changes will favor the Democrats and that for the Republican party to survive, it will have to move towards the center. Teixeria’s perscription includes:
*Move to the center on social issues. The culture wars may have worked for a while, but shifting demographics make them a loser for the party today and going forward. A more moderate approach would help with Millennials, where the party must close a yawning gap, and with white college graduates, who still lean Republican but just barely. The party also needs to make a breakthrough with Hispanics, and that won’t happen unless it shifts its image toward social tolerance, especially on immigration.
*Pay attention to whites with some college education and to young white working-class voters in general. The GOP’s hold on the white working class is not secure, and if that slips, the party doesn’t have much to build on to form a successful new coalition. That probably also means offering these voters something more than culture war nostrums and antitax jeremiads.
*Another demographic target should be white college graduates, especially those with a four-year degree only. The party has to stop the bleeding in America’s large metropolitan areas, especially in dynamic, growing suburbs. Keeping and extending GOP support among this demographic is key to taking back the suburbs. White college graduates increasingly see the party as too extreme and out of touch.
*In the long run the GOP has to have serious solutions of its own that go beyond cutting taxes. These solutions should use government to address problems but in ways that reflect conservative values and principles. Antigovernment populism is something the party is clearly comfortable with— witness its evolving line of attack on the Obama administration. But it’s likely not enough to just denounce the other side and what they have done or propose to do in populist terms.
In short, the “party of no” has a limited shelf life. That strategy might help the party make significant gains in 2010, but it will not be enough to restore it to a majority status.
Schaller notes that the GOP is not making any of these changes at this time. Of course not.
Republicans are still in denial of what happened in 2006 and 2008. They still tend to think they loss in 2008 because John McCain was too moderate. They also see polls saying that many people favor the draconian immigration law in Arizona and think that being anti-immigrant is the way to go. Because Obama and the Democrats made the mistake of trying to be the second coming of FDR, the Republicans see a chance to regain power without having to change.
The problem is the GOP is not looking long-term. Let’s say that a moderate and crafty Democrat becomes the leading candidate in say, 2016. Instead of offering big, expensive New Deal-type programs, he (or she) offers smaller-scale programs such as health care or climate change. If this candidate is able to provide a mix of fiscal conservatism with a social liberalism, AND if this person is able to get the Democratic Congressional Committees to do the same, then you can expect a long term Democratic majority with a liberalism ready for the 21st century.
The strategy for the Republicans has been either by design or by default, to appeal to white, Christians. And while the young Millenials that voted for Obama in droves might not vote in such numbers in 2010 and 2012, as they get older they will vote more and they will vote for the party that believe in inclusion. I can tell you that a party that excludes immigrants is party that won’t get the vote of many 20-somethings now and long into the future.
In all this gloom, I think there is are some seeds of hope. The hope is that as America becomes more “brown” and more accepting of gays and lesbians, I think there will be a revival of the GOP’s more moderate wing. I just think that if the GOP is subjected to diminishing returns in following their old strategy, there will be those calling and organizing around reform. Think I’m crazy? That’s exactly what happened with the Conservative Party in the UK. After dealing with loss after loss, they were forced to change.
It will happen here to the Republicans. It’s a question of when and not if.