The Republican Party reinvented itself, too, by deliberately wooing white racists after the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In the short-term, that was hugely successful. By how does that look going forward? Over the long-term, their very success at attracting racists might prove to be disastrous for the party (and maybe for all of us).
Here's Jonathan Chait:
Of the various expressions of right-wing hysteria that have flowered over the past three years—goldbuggery, birtherism, death panels at home and imaginary apology tours by President Obama abroad—perhaps the strain that has taken deepest root within mainstream Republican circles is the terror that the achievements of the Obama administration may be irreversible, and that the time remaining to stop permanent nightfall is dwindling away. ...
The Republican Party is in the grips of many fever dreams. But this is not one of them. To be sure, the apocalyptic ideological analysis—that “freedom” is incompatible with Clinton-era tax rates and Massachusetts-style health care—is pure crazy. But the panicked strategic analysis, and the sense of urgency it gives rise to, is actually quite sound. The modern GOP—the party of Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes—is staring down its own demographic extinction. ...
The Republican Party had increasingly found itself confined to white voters, especially those lacking a college degree and rural whites who, as Obama awkwardly put it in 2008, tend to “cling to guns or religion.” Meanwhile, the Democrats had increased their standing among whites with graduate degrees, particularly the growing share of secular whites, and remained dominant among racial minorities. ...
Every year, the nonwhite proportion of the electorate grows by about half a percentage point—meaning that in every presidential election, the minority share of the vote increases by 2 percent, a huge amount in a closely divided country. [my emphasis] One measure of how thoroughly the electorate had changed by the time of Obama’s election was that, if college-educated whites, working-class whites, and minorities had cast the same proportion of the votes in 1988 as they did in 2008, Michael Dukakis would have, just barely, won. By 2020—just eight years away—nonwhite voters should rise from a quarter of the 2008 electorate to one third. In 30 years, nonwhites will outnumber whites.
Do you wonder that Republicans have become hysterical, especially since there's actually a non-white president in the White House? Barack Obama, just from who he is, not from what he does, is the very embodiment of their fears. Well, the GOP deliberately wooed white racists, and that gave them a real advantage, at least at first.
In 1985, Stanley Greenberg, then a political scientist, immersed himself in Macomb County, a blue-collar Detroit suburb where whites had abandoned the Democratic Party in droves. He found that the Reagan Democrats there understood politics almost entirely in racial terms, translating any Democratic appeal to economic justice as taking their money to subsidize the black underclass.
It's easy to think the worst of people who are different from you. And Republicans have been pushing this theme for decades. Do you have problems? It must be because the blacks are getting favorable treatment. Not that any of them want to work, of course, because the Democrats are giving all your tax money to black welfare queens.
That tends to work even on people who aren't overt racists. Indeed, many of those people adamantly insist that they're not racist. I know. I encounter them all the time. They indignantly deny being racist even as they express their very racist thinking.
But America is becoming more diverse. Younger people are more comfortable with racial and religious diversity than the elderly, who grew up in a very different time. But as time passes, the elderly slowly die off. Meanwhile, racial minorities - especially Hispanics - are growing rapidly in numbers.
Is it any wonder that Republicans have become absolutely hysterical at Hispanic immigration? During the Bush years, Karl Rove actually thought to create a new Republican majority with Hispanics. After all, they tend to be Catholic, quite religious and quite conservative on social issues.
But that's hard to do when you've deliberately filled your political party with racists. The Republican base gets hysterical at the very thought of Hispanics in America. (They do tolerate Cubans, favoring them over all other Hispanic immigrants, apparently because they hate Castro even more.)
So instead of wooing the Hispanic vote, today's Republican candidates for president have to demonstrate that they hate Hispanics as much as the GOP base does. But without them, what kind of future does a whites-only Republican Party face?
Obama actually lost the over-45-year-old vote in 2008, gaining his entire victory margin from younger voters—more racially diverse, better educated, less religious, and more socially and economically liberal.
Portents of this future were surely rendered all the more vivid by the startling reality that the man presiding over the new majority just happened to be, himself, young, urban, hip, and black. When jubilant supporters of Obama gathered in Grant Park on Election Night in 2008, Republicans saw a glimpse of their own political mortality. And a galvanizing picture of just what their new rulers would look like.
In the cold calculus of game theory, the expected response to this state of affairs would be to accommodate yourself to the growing strength of the opposing coalition—to persuade pockets of voters on the Democratic margins they might be better served by Republicans. Yet the psychology of decline does not always operate in a straightforward, rational way. A strategy of managing slow decay is unpleasant, and history is replete with instances of leaders who persuaded themselves of the opposite of the obvious conclusion. Rather than adjust themselves to their slowly weakening position, they chose instead to stage a decisive confrontation.
Note that these people aren't rational. They're faith-based and apocalyptic. If they were accepting of racial and religious diversity, they wouldn't be Republicans in the first place.
Now, it wasn't always this way. There used to be moderate and even liberal Republicans. Republicans helped pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and they didn't all do it for cynical political reasons. But for decades, the party has deliberately wooed white racists. And Republican leaders have stoked racial fears, because that got their supporters fired up, eager to donate money and to vote.
So what do they do now?
None of this is to say that Republicans ignored the rising tide of younger and browner voters that swamped them at the polls in 2008. Instead they set about keeping as many of them from the polls as possible. The bulk of the campaign has taken the form of throwing up an endless series of tedious bureaucratic impediments to voting in many states—ending same-day voter registration, imposing onerous requirements upon voter-registration drives, and upon voters themselves. “Voting liberal, that’s what kids do,” overshared William O’Brien, the New Hampshire House speaker, who had supported a bill to prohibit college students from voting from their school addresses. What can these desperate, rearguard tactics accomplish? They can make the electorate a bit older, whiter, and less poor. They can, perhaps, buy the Republicans some time.
Republicans see these demographic changes, too. And in their fear, they're doing everything they can to maintain control. After all, if demographic changes are working against them, this might be their best chance.
But note that they're not showing the courage of the Democratic Party, which reinvented itself - to some extent, at least - twice during the 20th Century. They're not facing their mistakes head-on. They're certainly not correcting them.
Yes, party leaders have apologized for that "Southern strategy," but those are just words. They're sticking with the substance of that. Indeed, they're doubling-down.
The way to make sense of that foolhardiness is that the party has decided to bet everything on its one “last chance.” Not the last chance for the Republican Party to win power—there will be many of those, and over time it will surely learn to compete for nonwhite voters—but its last chance to exercise power in its current form, as a party of anti-government fundamentalism powered by sublimated white Christian identity politics. (And the last chance to stop the policy steamroller of the new Democratic majority.) And whatever rhetorical concessions to moderates and independents the eventual Republican nominee may be tempted to make in the fall, he’ll find himself fairly boxed in by everything he’s already done this winter to please that base.
Will the gamble work? Grim though the long-term demography may be, it became apparent to Republicans almost immediately after Obama took office that political fate had handed them an impossibly lucky opportunity. Democrats had come to power almost concurrently with the deepest economic crisis in 80 years, and Republicans quickly seized the tactical advantage, in an effort to leverage the crisis to rewrite their own political fortunes. The Lesser Depression could be an economic Watergate, the Republicans understood, an exogenous political shock that would, at least temporarily, overwhelm any deeper trend, and possibly afford the party a chance to permanently associate the Democrats with the painful aftermath of the crisis.
During the last midterm elections, the strategy succeeded brilliantly. Republicans moved further right and won a gigantic victory. In the 2010 electorate, the proportion of voters under 30 fell by roughly a third, while the proportion of voters over 65 years old rose by a similar amount—the white share, too. In the long run, though, the GOP has done nothing at all to rehabilitate its deep unpopularity with the public as a whole, and has only further poisoned its standing with Hispanics. But by forswearing compromise, it opened the door to a single shot. The Republicans have gained the House and stand poised to win control of the Senate. If they can claw out a presidential win and hold on to Congress, they will have a glorious two-year window to restore the America they knew and loved, to lock in transformational change, or at least to wrench the status quo so far rightward that it will take Democrats a generation to wrench it back. The cost of any foregone legislative compromises on health care or the deficit would be trivial compared to the enormous gains available to a party in control of all three federal branches.
Note that the Republican Party already controls the Supreme Court. That's the result of decades of Republican dominance. (And both parties, in fact, have tended to appoint more conservative justices than those they've replaced. Republicans replace conservatives with far-right extremists. Democrats replace liberals with moderates.)
Thanks to the disastrous 2010 elections, Republicans have regained control of the House of Representatives, and are positioned very well for taking the Senate, too (since they're defending far fewer seats than the Democrats this year). It's likely to be bad enough even if they don't take the presidency. If they do, we're in for a world of hurt.
Note that they'd be toast right now, if it weren't for the economic collapse that they themselves engineered. Ironic, isn't it? In good economic times, today's GOP wouldn't stand a chance. Well, that's why they've been dragging their feet, and even deliberately sabotaging the economic recovery.
These people are on the wrong side of history, but that just makes them even more hysterical, even more determined to do whatever they have to do to maintain control. Think of what George W. Bush did to us. Even under the best of circumstances, we won't repair that damage in my lifetime. What would an even crazier George W. Bush do to our country?
So I guess I'm feeling both optimistic and pessimistic. The GOP, as it is today, is doomed. But over the short-term, it can still destroy us.
Thanks to Jeff for the link.