Page 1 of 2

The Rich, White, Conservative GOP Must Change, But It Won't

Demographic trends are making the formerly Grand Old Party obsolete, but is the party going to do anything about that?

| Thu Dec. 13, 2012 4:09 PM EST

This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

Mitt Romney had hardly conceded before Republicans started fighting over where to head next. Some Republicans—and many Democrats—now claim that the writing is on the wall: demography is destiny, which means the GOP is going the way of the Whigs and the Dodo. Across the country, they see an aging white majority shrinking as the US heads for the future as a majority-minority country and the Grand Old Party becomes the Gray Old Party. Others say: not so fast.

In the month since 51% of the electorate chose to keep Barack Obama in the White House, I've spent my time listening to GOP pundits, operators, and voters. While the Party busily analyzes the results, its leaders and factions are already out front, pushing their own long-held opinions and calling for calm in the face of onrushing problems.

Do any of their proposals exhibit a willingness to make the kind of changes the GOP will need to attract members of the growing groups that the GOP has spent years antagonizing like Hispanics, Asian Americans, unmarried women, secular whites, and others? In a word: no.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Instead, from my informal survey, it looks to this observer (and former Republican) as if the party is betting all its money on cosmetic change. Think of it as the Botox Solution. It wants to tweak its talking points slightly and put more minority and female Republicans on stage as spokespeople. Many in the GOP seem to believe that this will do the trick in 2014 and beyond. Are they deluded?

You"ve heard the expression "putting lipstick on a pig," haven't you?

The Blame Game and the Short-Term Outlook

Although most Republicans see hints of future demographic challenges in the exit polls, many prefer to focus on other factors to explain Romney's loss out of a desire not to "blow up the party if there are less radical solutions." (Hence, the delusional quality of so many of their post-mortems and the lack of interest in meaningful change.)

First, they cite the Romney factor: a weak candidate, too moderate—or too conservative—who failed to fight the Obama campaign"s early efforts to paint him as an out-of-touch plutocrat. In other words, his history (Bain Capital and Romneycare) depth-charged him before demographics could even kick in. He was, unfortunately, the perfect quarter-billionaire candidate for a Democratic narrative that the GOP is only out for the rich and doesn't "care about people like me." (He predictably lost that exit poll question by a margin of 81% to 18%). Running a "vulture capitalist" (and a Mormon) drove a number of Republican voters to stay home or even—gasp!—vote for Obama. It"s a mistake that won't be repeated in 2016.

Second, they point to the Obama factor. In both 2008 and 2012, he attracted unprecedented levels of minority and young voters, a phenomenon that might not be repeated in 2016. Some Republican operatives are also convinced that his campaign simply had a much better "ground game" and grasp of how to employ technology to turn out voters. (Half of self-identifying Republican voters think, as they did in 2008, that Obama simply stole the election through registration fraud involving African Americans.)

Third, they emphasize the powers of incumbency. Romney only became the presumptive front-runner because the GOP"s A-listmostly too young in any case—feared the huge advantage an incumbent president enjoys and stayed home. 2016, they swear, will be different. Nor do they seem to fear a reprise of the 2008 and 2012 primary circuses because the A-listers in 2016, they insist, will all have well-established conservative bona fides and won't have to bend over backwards to cultivate the conservative base.

Trying to appeal to the Right while facing various nutcase candidates, Romney shot himself in both feet, labeling himself a "severe conservative" and staking an extreme anti-immigration position. George W. Bush, on the other hand, could run as a "compassionate conservative" in 2000 because his street cred on the Right was unchallengeable. Indeed, Paul Ryan is already talking up "compassion," while Ted Cruz, the new (extreme) senator from Texas, is hawking "opportunity conservatism."

Fourth, there is the perceived success of Republicans other than Romney, particularly in what white Republicans call the "Heartland." GOP operatives are still angry at Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock for losing two gimme Senate seats to the Dems by "saying stupid things" (in the words of Bobby Jindal, Louisiana governor and frequent visitor to Iowa), and they wonder how they lost in Montana and North Dakota.

Still, they kept their majority in the House of Representatives, losing only a handful of seats. (That the GOP lost the majority of total votes cast gets less attention.) The Party also added a 30th governor to its roster, and held onto its control of the majority of top offices and legislative chambers in the states. Come 2014, GOP operatives expect the Party to do quite nicely, as the opposition party often does in midterm elections, especially if turnout demographics look like 2006 and 2010. Another lesson many movement conservatives have learned is that the more they pound away on their issues, the more they shift American politics rightward even when they lose.

All of this suggests to anxious Republicans that they are not crazy for seeing no immediate need to make big changes to appeal to demographic groups outside the Party's aging white base. But the short term is likely to be short indeed. Think of them, then, as the POD or the Party of Denial.

Meanwhile, on the Bridge of the Titanic

Avoid it as they may, the long-term picture couldn't look grimmer for the Party. Demographics may well be destiny. Even a cursory look at the numbers exposes the looming threat to the Party's future prospects.

* Whites: About three-quarters of the electorate (and 88% of Romney's voters) this year were white, but their numbers are steadily sinking—by 2% since 2008. Yes, many whites may have stayed home this year, turned off by Mr. Car Elevator, but whites are projected to become a demographic minority by 2050—or possibly even before 2040—and minority births are now outpacing white births.

* White Christians: The bulk of Romney's supporters (79%) were white Christians (40% of whom were evangelicals), but this is an aging and shrinking group. Three-quarters of senior voters but only a quarter of millennial voters are white Christians, and the generations in between are much less likely to consider themselves "strong" members of their religion than seniors. (Non-white Christians, Jews, observers of other faiths, and the growing number of the religiously-unaffiliated all overwhelmingly vote for Democrats.)

* Hispanics: According to the Washington Post exit polls, Obama received 71% of the Hispanic vote in 2012 (67% in 2008). Already 10% of this year"s voters (9% in 2008), the Hispanic population is exploding, accounting for half of US population growth.

* Asian Americans: The nation's fastest growing demographic group—now 3% of this year's voters (2% in 2008)—gave Obama 73% of its vote in 2012 (62% in 2008).

* Unmarried Women: The percentage of unmarried women has been growing slowly since the 1970s, up to 53% of women as of last year. Even among subgroups favoring Obama, there was a marriage gap in which unmarried women (23% of this year"s voters) favored Obama by huge margins. Despite winning 53% of (mostly white) married women, 31% of this year"s voters (down from 33% in 2008), Romney lost women overall by 11 points.

* The Young: The millennial generation (born between 1978 and 2000) has been voting overwhelmingly for Democrats (66% for Obama in 2008, 60% this year). They are projected to be 40% of the eligible voting pool by 2020. Because they are relatively diverse and secular, the GOP cannot assume that enough will emulate previous generations and swing to the right as they age.

Page 1 of 2
Get Mother Jones by Email - Free. Like what you're reading? Get the best of MoJo three times a week.