After Mitt Romney’s defeat last fall, the Republican National Committee warned that the party needed to do more – fast – to reach out to blacks, Hispanics, gays and women. Focus groups, the RNC said in its March report, identified the GOP as the party of “stuffy old men.”
Instead of heeding the demographic writing on the wall, however, a leading faction of Republicans seems to have decided that the party’s future lies in doubling down on the “stuffy old white guy” vote. In recent debates over immigration reform, gay marriage, abortion, climate change and voting rights, most Republican politicians have, well, stuck to their guns.
This is not as surprising as it might sound, given that the Republicans used big legislative gains at the state and federal levels in 2010 to redraw electoral boundaries that reinforce the party’s reliance on rural and suburban white voters. The latest gerrymandering is supposed to help Republicans maintain a majority in the House of Representatives in 2014 and beyond. But at what cost?
Any prospective Republican presidential candidate faces the impossible task of currying favour with a congressional caucus that remains stubbornly anti-modern, while appealing to a national electorate that transcends racial politics, embraces gay marriage, supports a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, wants abortion access left alone and believes climate change is real.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio was supposed to be showing the way by championing an immigration bill that allows most of the country’s 11 million illegal immigrants (fourth-fifths of them Hispanics) to become permanent residents and, eventually, citizens. Last week, with an amendment to bolster border security, the bill passed the Senate by a 68-32 vote.
But while Chamber of Commerce and Wall Street Journal Republicans rushed to Mr. Rubio’s defence, the ambitious onetime Tea Party favourite faces blacklisting by those who brung him. The National Review, which built up Mr. Rubio as he took down former Florida governor Charlie Crist in 2010, now disparages him.
The Senate immigration bill appears dead on arrival in the House. About 70 per cent of House Republicans represent districts where the population is less than 10 per cent Hispanic. GOP Speaker John Boehner, rebuked more than once by his right-wing caucus, seems unwilling to risk that kind of embarrassment again and has refused to hold a vote on the Senate bill.
Immigration reform is a tough issue. But the Senate bill would allow current illegal immigrants and their children to become productive taxpayers, while sending as strong a message as possible to prospective unlawful border-jumpers.
Astonishingly enough, the National Review and many GOP strategists think there’s an easier route to the White House for Republicans that doesn’t involve courting minorities. Indeed, they argue, the 2012 election was simply an anomaly as African-Americans turned out in greater proportions than whites for the first time.
Only 64 per cent of eligible whites voted in 2012, compared to 66 per cent of blacks. Had white turnout matched previous levels, Mr. Romney would have won. So, many Republicans think the key to victory in 2016 and beyond is just getting more of those stuffy white people to the polls, not adding more Democratic-leaning Hispanics to the voters list.
This is the kind of retrograde thinking that led many Congressional Republicans to decry last week’s Supreme Court ruling that struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, while cheering the court’s move to quash conditions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The latter had required several Southern states with a history of suppressing the black vote to obtain federal preclearance before changing their election laws.
It’s the kind of thinking that has allowed Texas Governor Rick Perry to entertain a political rebirth, even as state Democratic Senator Wendy Davis became a national celebrity last week by filibustering his mean-spirited abortion bill. Mr. Perry has touted the legislation in recent days to bolster his credentials among the Republican base.
It’s also the kind of thinking that has led Republican strategists to see President Barack Obama’s vow to begin regulating the carbon emissions of coal-fired power plants as an opportunity to knock off the few remaining conservative Democrats in West Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Louisiana in next year’s mid-terms.
The stuffy old men’s party seems intent on remaining an exclusive club.