Republicans took the second option, and for a while it seemed like a smart strategy. Congressional Republicans maintained enormous discipline in opposing the broad parts of the Obama agenda. The economy, which hit rock bottom in September 2008, continued to collapse throughout the early months of Obama’s presidency.
Heading into the 2010 midterm elections, Obama was unwilling to forcefully defend his policies. Into this troubling period sprang up the Tea Party, which was a re-imagining of the same old right-wing coalition that has long opposed the notion of a strong federal government. Republicans won huge victories in the 2010 election, recapturing the majority in the U.S. House and giving themselves reason for optimism looking forward to the 2012 presidential election.
In 2010, the old winning formula worked as Republicans called on loyal constituents who were older, whiter and more rural than the nation as a whole. However, two years later that coalition was not enough to prevent a second term for Obama. Exit polling discovered Democrats were heavily favored by younger voters, women, blacks, Asians and Latinos. A majority of Jews and Catholics supported Obama, while Protestants preferred Romney by a wide margin.
What’s worse for Republicans is that these demographic trends will grow over time.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., addressed the problem earlier this week. “If I hear anybody say” a Republican loss “was because Romney wasn’t conservative enough, I’m going to go nuts,” Graham told Politico. “We’re not losing 95 percent of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we’re not being hard-ass enough.”
The senator is right on the money.
In support of anti-illegal immigrant laws, Republicans have personalized the issue, turning it into a war on Hispanics. Romney won 27 percent of that segment of voters; a mere eight years earlier, George W. Bush claimed close to half of Hispanic voters.
The GOP position on taxes is best illustrated by the presidential primary debate question posed to a stage-full of Republican presidential hopefuls. The premise: Would you accept $1 in tax increases for $10 in spending cuts? Not one candidate raised a hand in support of that bargain, which shows the inflexibility of the Republican position.
In fact, the inability to moderate on a host of issues, including health-care reform, the science of climate change, social issues and a host of important matters is locking Republicans in an ever-shrinking box.
Former Bush political adviser Mark McKinnon told The New York Times, “It’s time to put some compassion back in conservatism. The party needs more tolerance, more diversity and a deeper appreciation for the concerns of the middle class.”
In one way of thinking, that new and improved Republican Party would be conservative in the more traditional meaning. There’s nothing conservative about rejecting science. There’s nothing conservative about cutting taxes without regard to how it affects the bottom line. There’s nothing conservative about championing the waste of natural resources. There’s nothing conservative about demonizing gays and racial minorities.
A stronger Republican Party can emerge from this loss. The alternative is a nation of one-and-a-half parties, not two.