It’s the first thing you notice. A physical manifestation of what you’ve come to understand on an intellectual level. When you walk into the Republican National Convention, as I did earlier this year, you’re met with a sea of faces. White faces.
Like a statue of old in some great city, the GOP has stood stoically, unchanging in the face of rapid transformation unfolding around it.
The demographic shifts in the United States have been profound, changing, in a very literal sense, the face of the great Republic. But like a statue, the Republican Party has remained monochromatic.
Consider this reflection from David Wasserman at FiveThirtyEight:
“In 1980, Ronald Reagan won 56 percent of all white voters and won election in a 44-state landslide. In 2012, GOP nominee Mitt Romney carried 59 percent of all white voters yet lost decisively.
What happened? African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and other non-whites — all overwhelmingly Democratic-leaning groups — rose from 12 percent of voters in 1980 to 28 percent in 2012.”
And this trend is only going in one direction. For example, the Latino population in the United States, which stood at 3.5 percent of the total population in 1960 and 17.3 percent in 2014, is projected by the Pew Research Center to grow to 28.6 percent by 2060.
To put that into sharp relief, a full half of the United States’ current population growth is Latino. For a party so beholden to white voters (and particularly less educated white voters) this should be a cause for concern. And it is.
An Inflection Point
Back in 2012 after Mitt Romney was defeated by Barack Obama the GOP did something too few political parties do after a loss; they asked why and sought to identify lessons that could address those failures and weaknesses that lead to defeat.
That effort produced an incredible report that provided a roadmap for the GOP to face and win over America as it is now.
“If Hispanic Americans hear that the GOP doesn’t want them in the United States, they won’t pay attention to our next sentence. It doesn’t matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think that we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies.
In essence, Hispanic voters tell us our Party’s position on immigration has become a litmus test, measuring whether we are meeting them with a welcome mat or a closed door.”
Amongst the many recommendations in the report, one in particular, encapsulates the broad thrust:
“If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them and show our sincerity.”
And so, less than four years later, the Republican Party nominated Donald Trump.
Much has been written about Trump’s racist rhetoric, identity politics and singular focus on appealing to a subset of white Americans whose notion a great America is one in which they are the majority and where one could leave high school and walk into a job for life at the local factory.
But rather than retread a well-worn path let’s cut to the end of the movie and note simply that Trump’s nomination is the clearest possible indication that although the GOP may be able to draw lessons from the shifting form of the American electorate it is, at least for the moment, incapable of applying them.
The End of the GOP?
No. And you shouldn’t take seriously anyone who tells you it is. Like Mark Twain, rumors of the GOP’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Yes, despite the tightening in the polls, the Democrats are likely to retain the White House this year.
And there’s a good chance they’ll take back the Senate too. But the GOP will still most likely retain the House. And in the event they do lose one or both, the smart money in 2018 would see the GOP get back what they lost.
At the state level the GOP’s position is even stronger, with 31 governorships to the Democrat’s 18 and 31 state legislatures to the Democrat’s 11 (eight are split). That’s a position that is unlikely to weaken meaningfully in the foreseeable future.
The White House is a different story. Without substantial change, and a willingness to stop pandering to the base instincts of less educated white Americans, the White House will remain out of reach.
As Cesar Martinez, a Republican strategist who helped George W. Bush engage with Latino voters in 2000 and 2004, and who worked on the Jeb Bush campaign this year, said recently, “the GOP has to ask itself whether it wants to really compete for the White House.
Because if it doesn’t start taking seriously the need to engage with minority voters, it will be relegated to a party of local, state and congressional elections only. As an example, you can’t win the White House without 40 + of the Latino vote.”
Come Out Swingin’
The country is changing. The question is whether the better angels in the GOP, and there are many of them, are able to win the battle for the heart and soul of the party, to take advantage of the inflection point Trump has created. Let’s not forget, it wasn’t so long ago that a certain
Let’s not forget, it wasn’t so long ago that a certain George W. Bush won 44% of the Latino vote.
And so, on November 9th a titanic struggle will begin. On one side, Republicans who see the world as it is. On the other, Republicans who wish for a world we should all be grateful no longer exists. Who will win?
It depends how much the party as a whole wants to hold the White House ever again.