GOP Not in Kansas Anymore


Over at the New York Times Magazine, Robert Draper has a long piece about the woes of the Republican Party. A lot of it focuses on their inability to embrace the kind of technology favored by young people, but Ed Kilgore points out that the problem goes way, way deeper than technology. Here’s an excerpt about a focus group conducted recently by a GOP pollster named Kristen Soltis Anderson:

About an hour into the session, Anderson walked up to a whiteboard and took out a magic marker. “I’m going to write down a word, and you guys free-associate with whatever comes to mind,” she said. The first word she wrote was “Democrat.”

“Young people,” one woman called out. “Liberal,” another said. Followed by: “Diverse.” “Bill Clinton.”“Change.”“Open-minded.”“Spending.”“Handouts.”“Green.”“More science-based.”

When Anderson then wrote “Republican,” the outburst was immediate and vehement: “Corporate greed.”“Old.”“Middle-aged white men.” “Rich.” “Religious.” “Conservative.” “Hypocritical.” “Military retirees.” “Narrow-minded.” “Rigid.” “Not progressive.” “Polarizing.” “Stuck in their ways.” “Farmers.”

….The session with the young men was equally jarring. None of them expressed great enthusiasm for Obama. But their depiction of Republicans was even more lacerating than the women’s had been. “Racist,” “out of touch” and “hateful” made the list — “and put ‘1950s’ on there too!” one called out.

Ed sums up: “If you had to choose one theme that underlies the arguments Draper’s hearing from the cool kids of the GOP, it’s that the Christian Right has gotta go.”

For years, Democrats complained about the fact that so many working class voters had abandoned them on pocketbook issues and instead began voting on social issues. These voters didn’t like hippies or abortion or busing, so they voted Republican even though the GOP was the party of rich people.

But now the worm is turning. The Reagan Democrats who started this trend are now senior citizens, or close to it. They’re no longer natural Democratic voters who are defecting to the Republican column, they’re just natural Republican voters who are voting for Republicans. That doesn’t really help the GOP.

What’s worse, social issues are no longer a trump card with 20- and 30-something working class voters. So now Republicans are feeling some of the same frustration that Democrats did during the Reagan era, because they probably think they have a decent pocketbook case to make to younger voters: Democrats want to raise your taxes; Obamacare forces you to buy insurance you don’t want, and raises your premiums in order to subsidize older folks; liberals won’t let you send your kids to better schools; they’re wrecking the economy with higher entitlement spending and a refusal to save Social Security.

Obviously liberals have answers to all this. Still, Republicans probably feel like they have a reasonable case to make. And they do. Not a slam dunk case, but a reasonable one.

But it doesn’t matter, because a growing block of voters is still voting on social issues. The problem is that the social issues they’re voting on aren’t hippies and abortion. The issues are global warming, gay rights, gun extremism, contraception, immigration, and a generally toxic attitude toward anyone non-white. And in this generation, all of these issues help Democrats. Even centrist 30-somethings largely don’t have a problem with gay marriage, are appalled at objections to contraception, and are offended when Fox News goes on one of its xenophobic jags. They want no part of this, even if they’re not super thrilled with the Democratic Party’s economic agenda.

So who’s going to write the conservative version of What’s the Matter With Kansas? I’m not sure. But someone sure needs to write it. My own guess is that for a lot of voters who are only marginally engaged with politics, they simply don’t believe that either party is really likely to help them financially. So no matter how much they tell pollsters that their #1 issue is jobs, it often doesn’t affect their actual vote that much. Social issues are all that’s left, and these days, outside the Christian Right, that mostly helps Democrats, not Republicans.

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