Re-Making the GOP

November 7th, 2012

President Obama won a decisive victory last night. He won the popular vote by a thin margin, and he didn’t dominate the electoral college as he did in 2008, but there’s no doubt about it: it was decisive. The GOP only peeled off Indiana and North Carolina from Obama’s 2008 electoral haul, and that poor performance was despite a weak economy.

To be clear, though, this wasn’t a 1996 or 1984-like trouncing. It was a close election in a divided nation—Romney barely lost Florida and lost Ohio by a small margin, too. But this performance is predicated on a declining group: white, heavily male, older voters. Obama dominated young and minority voters. Obama received support from 93 percent of black voters, 71 percent of Hispanics and 73 percent of Asians. And of voters ages 18-29 (which increased from 18 percent of voters in 2008 to 19 percent in 2012), 60 percent supported Obama. 89 percent of Mitt Romney’s votes came from whites, which are declining as a percentage of the population.

I’ve been saying this since 2008. The GOP has tied itself to whites—specifically, older, male, evangelical whites—which is a very, very dumb thing to do when the country is changing. Megan McArdle makes a fine argument that the Democrats’ new coalition will fracture in the future, which may be true enough, but the GOP still must be an acceptable alternative for younger voters, minority voters, and women. In 2012, it wasn’t, and if their positions remain the same on gay marriage and immigration in particular (and so stringent on abortion, to a lesser extent), they won’t be in the future, either. Anecdotally, among libertarian or even conservative-leaning younger voters, the GOP is a joke for their positions.

John Weaver, a former John McCain campaign strategist makes the case:

“We have a choice: we can become a shrinking regional party of middle-aged and older white men, or we can fight to become a national governing party,” Mr. Weaver said in an interview. “And to do the latter we have to fix our Hispanic problem as quickly as possible, we’ve got to accept science and start calling out these false equivalencies when they occur within our party about things that are just not true, and not tolerate the intolerant.”

He’s absolutely right. The GOP’s intransigence and quasi-racist rhetoric on immigration has contributed to a dramatic erosion of their Hispanic vote. In 2004, Bush—who valiantly fought his own party to reform immigration policy, and lost—received almost 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. In 2008, McCain received 31 percent. And in 2012, Romney only took 27 percent. Is that any surprise? It shouldn’t be. And yet Republicans continue with their politically and logically idiotic immigration positions.

Gay marriage works in a similar manner to immigration for the young. For the young, gay marriage is not even something worth debating; 63 percent of millennials support legalizing gay marriage. The GOP’s opposition to it makes the party look like an anachronistic joke, a party irrelevant to their decision.

The GOP’s positions on immigration and gay marriage have to change, and change dramatically. That’s the reality, and more importantly, that’s the right thing to do—because the party’s positions are wrong on these issues. The GOP claims it is for small government and federalism, claims it believes this nation was built on the hard work of immigrants, and then goes on to say the federal government should ban gays from marrying, calls American citizens born to illegal immigrants and legal immigrants “anchor babies,” and says we should send the children illegal immigrants bring with them back to a country they’ve never known. Politics is a game of hypocrisy, but that’s hypocrisy on a massive level, and it’s wrong.

That has to change. It must change. The GOP has the potential for a strong philosophical appeal to young voters—it could be the party that believes while government has a significant role in regulating the economy and providing for the needy, we need to fulfill those needs in a fiscally-responsible manner, and we must maintain a society where individuals working together voluntarily are at the forefront of our society, rather than forcing most decisions—economic and social—through the federal government.

There’s potential there, but without fixing these issues, the party doesn’t stand a chance. The first step is to change the party’s positions on the issues listed, and to call out the intolerant elements within the party who have gone untouched for too long. I’ve tried to publicly and privately criticize the homophobic, xenophobic and sometimes racist elements of the party when I run into them, but I don’t think I’ve done enough to make it an issue. It isn’t enough to criticize it when I run into it. The only way to eliminate the intolerant in this party is to actively call it out, actively point it out, and make it unacceptable.

Everyone in this party needs to work toward re-making the party, because unless we do it, there won’t be a party left to rebuild. The Romney campaign attempted to win this election by not being Obama, and by being a generic Republican. The American people repudiated that approach. It didn’t work. Perhaps a different candidate would have won, someone not so susceptible to the Obama campaign’s caricature of the wealthy, but Romney is a moderate who was forced to move hard to the right on social issues and immigration, so I’m skeptical of that being the case. The far-right in the party forced Romney to abandon his more moderate roots, so I’ve no doubt they would have done the same to any other candidate, too. And whatever the case, demographics are moving away from the GOP, so they must change.

The current GOP is wrong politically and wrong morally. We must re-make it.