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Friday, June 12, 2009

An Unchanging GOP in a Changing America

You might've noticed that the Republican party is in a bit of a pickle right now. Down in the polls to the point that 38% of Republicans have a negative view of the party, things aren't really looking bright. Those numbers come from a new Gallup poll that shows just how bad things are for the Grand Old Party these days.

"Although it is generally well-known that the Republican Party has an image problem today (after all, the Democrats have control of the White House and both houses of Congress), these findings reinforce the depth of that problem by pointing out the degree to which Republicans themselves have a lower opinion of their party than Democrats do of their party," Gallup's report said. "The only saving grace, perhaps, is the finding that Democrats are slightly more positive in their opinions of the Republican Party than is the case the other way around."

"Slightly" doesn't really mean much -- 78 percent of Democrats view the GOP unfavorably, while 85 percent of Republicans look across the aisle and see suck. This is what you call "deep division." A new era of bipartisanship doesn't really look very likely. Still, some look at this and see not a long and bitter battle for the political center (which Democrats currently own), but the dawning of a glorious new Republican Golden Age.

"I really believe we've got a shot at taking back this House because you see what's gone on here with the unfettered ability of this administration and Nancy Pelosi to run this Congress," House GOP #2 Eric Cantor said earlier this week. "The American people see that this agenda is way far out of the mainstream. They want a check and a balance on this power. And I think at the end of the day that's what rules come November 2010." Personally, I speculated that Cantor's on drugs. This would be a 40 seat switch in the GOP's favor, at a time when few people identify themselves as Republican.

Others are more realistic. Writing for TIME, Republican Strategist Mike Murphy warns that his party is headed into a "GOP ice age." And the problem is demographic.

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.

Murphy suggests that Republicans stop being insane about immigration. "Latinos need to see a quick end to the Republican congressional jihad on immigration," he writes. "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."

But the Republican party faces other demographic problems. In every census, Christians make up a smaller and smaller percentage of the population. If the trend continues at the rate it has been, Christianity will be a minority religion by 2030. At that point, there will be no religious majority in the United States. And the fastest growing religious group in America isn't a religious group at all, it's the religiously unaffiliated.

As a result, the "God" and "gays" parts of the Republican message of "God, gays, and guns" are losing their magic quickly. In a nation where a steadily growing percentage don't care what the Bible says, Bible-thumping loses a lot of its mojo. And insisting that the United States is a "Christian nation" while the population is becoming decreasingly Christian is both insane and self-destructive. It represents a group moving toward the minority telling the majority they're some sort of enemy. When the groups you represent are shrinking, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to engage in the politics of exclusion.

But the biggest problem facing the party is that the electoral routs of 2006 and 2008 have had the effect of a party purge. Extremely unpopular nationwide, Republicans lost all but the most red districts in House races. As a result, the largest percentage of elected federal officials are complete wingnuts. Narrow-minded, racist, Christian supremacist, and convinced that ideological purity is the only way to go, they treat "moderation" as if it were a dirty word.

"Many will support [the current] strategy: stand pat, fight it out on fiscal issues on which the GOP has strong support and exploit liberal-Democrat excess," Murphy writes. "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."

I don't see much chance of that. Not when all that are left are the right wing loons.


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