6:28 PM CDT, September 25, 2012
Amid the endless speculation about election 2012, there is one factor that many political prognosticators have ignored, a factor already on vivid display. Incidentally, it also explains Mitt Romney’s 47% comment rather well.
Mitt Romney’s string of cringe-worthy moments in the past several—well, since he’s been running—have made headlines. Yet the uproar over the gaffes has also obscured an obvious truth: the Republicans have a structurally flawed model for winning presidential elections. As long as the Obama campaign turns out most of its base, no Republican candidate would really stand a chance. The most important story in American politics going forward will be simple demographics.
Much was said about the two conventions: the Democrats, from my perspective, featured several winning moments, especially by Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton, who overshadowed the current president. The Republican convention, from my perspective, was mostly a blathering assortment of platitudes, half-truths, outright falsehoods, and post-structuralist sloganeering (count me as someone who thought Clint Eastwood had one of the more coherent, substantive speeches of the event). However, the more important story of the conventions could be found simply by panning over the assembled audiences. The Democratic convention actually looked like what America looks like. It looked like a bus ride west on North Avenue. It looked like a pick-up basketball game at my gym. In other words, it looked brown and white and openly gay. The Republican convention, on the other hand, looked like Sunday brunch at a Bob Evans in Utah. The endless parade of minorities to the podium to cheer the official line only served to highlight the unbelievable dearth of diversity in the crowd.
Look, Barack Obama is almost certainly going to win this election. Anyone who checks in on Nate Silver’s remarkable model (which predicted the exact configuration of Obama's 2008 win better than anyone else in the media) has known this for quite sometime. Yet overpaid political pundits will spend the next three months trying to unpack why Mitt Romney was such a bad candidate. This will be a false and misleading narrative to pursue. In its current incarnation Republicanism is doomed one way or the other because its electoral strategy is to pursue an entirely white, mostly male, mostly older electorate. The Republican “landslide” of 2010—as I pointed out the day after—only occurred because the demographics of the electorate changed. Many young and brown voters, probably demoralized by a tough economy, possibly just uninterested the way all voters get uninterested in midterm elections, stayed home. Every election, as the non-white proportion of the electorate grows by about 2%, the strategy of betting on all these people to stay home will grow stupider and stupider.
Many smart people have been pointing this out for a while, and it is central to the thesis of my mushroom-tripping-Republican-debate-going epic “The Great Dysmorphia” (plug!). However, what’s so remarkable is that in the closed circuit of Movement Conservatism there appears to be very little appetite to appeal to anyone other than resentful white people.
Look at the polls between Romney and Obama: the president is not winning Hispanics and women, he is crushing Romney in those two groups. If you look at how Obama is going to get to 270 electoral votes, the best place to focus is not Ohio and Virginia (although those are important), but the West. The Romney campaign has basically given up on New Mexico, Nevada is looking increasingly out of reach, and it has a lot of ground to make up in Colorado. Obama’s muscular showing in these states is largely attributable to the growing Hispanic vote, and where is the Hispanic vote also growing? The deep-red state of Texas. As the Hispanic vote grows in Texas, there is no reason to believe it won’t follow the same trend as these other western states and turn purple sometime in the next few electoral cycles. At that point a Republican candidate espousing today’s party line of “self-deportation” would have virtually no chance of winning the White House.
Despite, some right-wing noise about the youth vote, Obama has already run away with the race for my generation. Believe it or not, I actually do have a few Republican friends and what always strikes me when I talk to them about politics is how little they actually believe in the official Republican line. They’ll fully admit they see nothing wrong with gay people marrying, they certainly don’t want to outlaw abortion for rape victims, they thought the Bush presidency was largely a disaster, and they think a deal to cut some spending and raise some revenue in order to close the deficit is hardly apostasy. None of these young young Republicans could actually win a Republican primary were they to run for office. Therefore the young people who say they are "Republicans" are still far, far to the left the party.
The larger implication of what I’m talking about here is that the Republican Party also has a bunch of really terrible ideas. Fundamentally, the movement displays frequent and occasionally savage hostility to Hispanics, homosexuals, blacks, women, scientists, young people, and mainstream economists. This is the entire story of voter ID laws, which anyone who has even a tenuous grip on reality understands is entirely about lowering the turnout for Democratic-leaning constituencies. This is the story of Massachusetts Senate candidate Scott Brown actually complaining out loud about groups attempting to register poor voters. This is why in Florida, the Republican governor and legislature created an extremely strange law that basically attempts to criminalize voter registration efforts. Republicanism understands the demographic challenge it faces, and its reaction is not to—oh, I don’t know: come up with better policies that are inclusive to non-rich white males—it’s to complain about the 47%.
Because Romney wasn’t talking about the 47% of people who pay no income tax. Not really. The “47%” is simply a way of talking about the increasingly diverse make-up of the country without actually coming out and saying it. Because in attempting to grapple with the new demographic reality, the closed circuit of Republican thought has convinced itself that all these voters are receiving government handouts and are only interested in voting for higher taxes on the wealthy and no taxes for themselves (the rebuttals to this explanation are so numerous and obvious, I won’t bother to repeat them all here, as plenty of other, better writers have made those points).
Yet my bet is that the narrative of the 47% will continue because, like so many other fairy tales traded within modern Republicanism, it allows the True Believer to ignore an unpleasant reality.
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC