Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Republican Recriminations

Republican consultant Mike Murphy writes in TIME about the considerable challenge facing Republicans as they seek to return to power in the years ahead.

And, essentially, what he says is that the demographics are against the party.

That can change, of course. As the first decade of the 21st century has clearly shown, political power in America can be lost as easily as it can be won. In the early part of this decade, it was hard to foresee the time when the Republicans would no longer have a grip on power. Following the 2004 elections, the GOP held 55 seats in the Senate (compared to 44 for the Democrats) and 231 seats in the House (compared to 202 for the Democrats). But four years later, by the end of George W. Bush's second term as president, the Democrats had taken a 57–40 advantage in the Senate (with two independent senators who caucus with the Democrats) and a 257–178 lead in the House.

A string of events — the Terri Schiavo affair, Hurricane Katrina, the ill–fated Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers, the increasingly unpopular Iraq War, the economic meltdown — contributed to the reversal of fortune, and many Republicans are no doubt hoping the pendulum will swing back their way.

But those pesky demographics get in the way, Murphy insists. "A GOP ice age is on the way," he writes.

Murphy observes that it was a shock for Republicans when Barack Obama carried Indiana last year. I'm sure it must have been. Obama was only the fifth Democratic presidential nominee to carry the state since 1900. But, as big a shock as that was for the GOP, Murphy makes a valid point when he writes that "[t]he bigger news was how he did it" — with the help of Latino voters.

"Exit polls showed that they provided Obama with a margin of more than 58,000 votes in a state he carried by a slim 26,000 votes," Murphy writes.

I've been telling people for more than 15 years that the Latino segment of the population was growing faster than any other group in America. Once they discovered their political potential, I said, they would be in a position to affect the outcomes of elections from the presidency on down.

Perhaps that was easier to see in Texas, where Hispanic citizens now account for roughly one–third of the population. Hispanic voters in Texas haven't shifted the Lone Star State's political allegiance, but that day may well be coming. Murphy points out that the Hispanic share of the national vote more than quadrupled (from 2% to 9%) from Ronald Reagan's election in 1980 to Obama's election in 2008 "and Obama won that Hispanic vote with a crushing 35–point margin."

The GOP also has a problem with young voters. "Obama won voters under 30 by a record 33 points," Murphy writes. "And the young voters of today, while certainly capable of changing their minds, do become all voters tomorrow."

But in spite of recognizing these demographic trends, Murphy frets that "too many in the GOP are stuck in a swoon of nostalgia" for "the winning ways of Ronald Reagan." Many of those Republicans may be waiting for Obama to alienate these demographic groups so they can step in and fill the void, but that's an iffy strategy for seizing power.

"It is true that attitudes change," Murphy writes, but "[w]aiting and hoping didn't do much for the Whigs."

To appeal to the demographic groups they lost by wide margins last November, Murphy has some recommendations for Republicans.
  • Young voters need to see a GOP that is more socially libertarian, particularly toward gay rights.

  • Latinos need to see a quick end to the Republican congressional jihad on immigration.
I would add to that the party promoting an end to the war on drugs — which would halt the bloodshed along the border, provide a significant source of jobs and tax revenue at a time when America could use both and remove an irrational social and legal stigma from a substance that is used both medicinally and recreationally by millions — would go a long way toward attracting alienated voters.

Indeed, Murphy concedes that "[m]uch of this is still heresy to the party as it stands now." Well, the times they are a–changing. Today's Republicans may look back with fondness at the era of Reagan, but they would be wise to revisit their positions on some issues if they hope to avoid a political ice age.

1 comment:

When EF Talks said...

Glad you picked up on the piece too. As I wrote on FB, it seems like a pretty good analysis of what's really going on out there. Interesting to see the very negative reaction it garnered on my site!