Despairing Republican friends have been asking me what I think we should do to rebuild the GOP and begin our certain and inevitable comeback. My answer disappoints them: “Build an ark.”
I say this because I’ve made a career out of counting votes, and the numbers tell a clear story; the demographics of America are changing in a way that is deadly for the Republican Party as it exists today. A GOP ice age is on the way.
Demographic change is irritating to politicos, since it works on elections much as rigged dice do on a Las Vegas craps table: it is a game changer. For years, Republicans won elections because the country was chock-full of white middle-class voters who mostly pulled the GOP lever on Election Day. Today, however, that formula is no longer enough.
It was a huge shock to the GOP when Barack Obama won Republican Indiana last year. The bigger news was how he did it. Latino voters delivered the state. 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. That’s right, GOP, you’ve entered a brave new world ruled by Latino Hoosiers, and you’re losing.
In 1980, Latino voters cast about 2% of all votes. Last year it was 9%, and Obama won that Hispanic vote with a crushing 35-point margin. By 2030, the Latino share of the vote is likely to double. In Texas, the crucial buckle for the GOP’s Electoral College belt, the No. 1 name for new male babies — many of whom will vote one day — is Jose. Young voters are another huge GOP problem. Obama won voters under 30 by a record 33 points. And the young voters of today, while certainly capable of changing their minds, do become all voters tomorrow.
Rather than face up to all this, too many in the GOP are stuck in a swoon of nostalgia. Most of our party leaders come from bloodred GOP states or safe districts, so they are far more at home in the tribal politics of Republican primaries than in those of the country as a whole. You could say their radio dials are stuck on AM. The result is we hear a lot about going back to “the winning ways of Ronald Reagan.” Well, I love Reagan too. But demographics no longer do. In 1980, Reagan beat Jimmy Carter by 10 points. If that contest were held again today, under the current demographics of the electorate per exit polls, the election would be much closer, with Reagan probably winning by about 3 points.
It is true that attitudes change. A magnificent Republican renewal may still be possible. Conservatism is traditionally energized by a reaction to liberal excess, and the unabashedly leftish tilt of the Obama Administration’s domestic agenda does give hope. But demography is a powerful force. Waiting and hoping didn’t do much for the Whigs. I prefer a Republican reformation right now.
Young voters need to see a GOP that is more socially libertarian, particularly toward gay rights. With changing demographics come changing attitudes, and aping the grim town elders from Footloose is not the path back to a Republican White House. The pro-life movement can still be a central part of the GOP — it has support among all ages (and a slim majority of Latino voters) — but the overall GOP view on abortion must aggressively embrace the big tent.
Latinos need to see a quick end to the Republican congressional jihad on immigration. That shouldn’t be a hard lesson for the GOP to learn; every 2008 presidential-primary candidate who went for the cheap applause of the anti-immigration right couldn’t win even the Iowa caucus, let alone the nomination. Instead, the GOP should support practical immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. Republicans should differentiate themselves from the left by heating up the lukewarm American melting pot with a firm insistence on learning English and a rejection of the silly excesses of identity politics. A smart GOP would be deeply in the microloan and free-English-lessons business in immigrant communities. Illegal immigrants can’t vote. Their children will.
Much of this is still heresy to the party as it stands now. Many will support an alternative strategy: stand pat, fight it out on fiscal issues on which the GOP has strong support and exploit liberal-Democrat excess. In the short term, that could work, but eventually the demographics will win out. Saving the GOP is not about diluting conservatism but about modernizing it to reflect the country it inhabits instead of an America that no longer exists.
Murphy is a GOP political consultant and writer. He Twitters at murphymike