Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Republicans Have a Big Problem And It Ain't Mitt

There is a dirty little secret festering beneath the surface of Governor Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. What started as whispers by the Republican establishment has grown into a murmur, and will likely be heard as a dull roar when President Obama takes his next oath of office in January. The secret is the plain and, for Republicans, painful truth that theirs is no longer a national party.

The Republican party's candidate for president has won the popular vote only once in the last five elections. If President Obama's current lead holds, that will be one win, George W. Bush's squeaker in 2004, in twenty- four years.

As America's demographics continue to shift toward people of color, the Republican message of deregulation and tax cuts will grow more stale and ineffective. Those policies have failed to help middle-  and lower- class families for 30- plus years, but until this decade, Republicans were able to attract those voters and win national elections through social issues. More than just raising wedge issues like abortion or gay marriage, Republicans would often talk about societal decline in racial overtones. Whether it was Ronald Reagan's anonymous welfare queen or George H.W. Bush's Willie Horton ad, Republicans gleefully ostracized minority voters.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Karl Rove's permanent majority.

The country got less white, and it gets less so every year. Working class whites have an interest in the status quo, and can be called "conservative" in the true sense of the word. This group often resents what they see as government intrusion through policies of affirmative action or welfare. Meanwhile, immigrants look to the government to provide a fair system and safety-net as they work to establish themselves. Meaning Ronald Reagan's base is shrinking as Barack Obama's grows.

Furthermore, society's evolving positions (to borrow a phrase) on issues like gay marriage and immigration, have taken once powerful weapons of mobilization out of the Republican arsenal.

So, Republican orthodoxy of tax- cuts and deregulation increasingly has to stand on its own, without social issues and under-the-table prejudice to help win the day.

And the results have not been pretty for Republicans.

Take this summer's nominating conventions, each a chance for the parties to convince the American people of its vision for government. The Republican convention came and went without a ripple, let alone a splash. Meanwhile, Democrats are still riding a wave of support generated by their prime-time speakers. The success of one convention and failure of another was not about Bill Clinton's eloquence or Clint Eastwood's nonsense. Democrats are just selling a product that more voters want to buy.

Make no mistake, the polls in this election will continue to be tight, and the Republican strategy can still work when their side is far more motivated to vote. But that isn't easy to pull off in presidential politics. And thanks to that shift in demographics and increased Republican extremism, there are flat out more people who identify and believe in the Democratic vision than the Republican.

This is something the Romney camp seems to recognize, and since tabbing Ayn Rand in shirt sleeves for vice president, the campaign it has made a hard turn to the center. That includes ads where Romney implores voters that he cares about working people just as much as the President does, and an interview in which he praised parts of Obamacare. His campaign realizes that if only 2006 Governor Romney were running, he'd have a real shot.

As First Read and Politico reported, Republicans have begun to lay the blame for a disappointing campaign on Romney himself, asserting that he did not present the clear case for conservatism. Among them, Governor Chris Christie, eagerly awaiting his 2016 run for the White House, told Meet the Press that Wednesday's debate would turn the election because Romney would  go head-to-head against the president with a message of conservatism. The implication was clear: if the campaign continues to falter it isn't about the opportunity or the message, it's the messenger.

Republicans hope that repeating this lie enough might somehow make it true. But deep down theirs is an inconvenient truth: that in order to reclaim its status as a national party, the Republican party must come to grips with a changed nation. If they don't, they'll look back on this election not as a disappointment, but on the closest they came to the presidency in a generation.

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