Thursday, November 8, 2012

The wall and the mirror:
Republicans confront the future

If you can’t beat Barack Obama with this record ... then shut down the party. Shut it down. Start new, with new people.

Laura Ingraham

The demographics race, we're losing badly ... We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham

TUESDAY NIGHT on Fox News, after the election results were in, political personality Sarah Palin told Greta Van Susteren that “it's a perplexing time for many of us right now.”

Palin's confusion is apparently also shared by her fellow conservatives; the outcome of Tuesday’s genuinely historical presidential election has elicited some early self-recrimination and what passes (48 hours after the vote) for sober-sided reflection about what went wrong.

But no worries. Apparently true to form, as soon as the chin-pulling began, the long knives came out too.

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On MSNBC, longtime Republican strategist Steve Schmidt used a recent torrent of malicious anti-Obama tweets by millionaire bloviator and publicity enthusiast Donald Trump to make the case that the Republican leadership needs to be more forthright about facing down extremists, and their love of the coded dogwhistle politics that appeal to the base’s baser instincts.

“Now, people calling for revolution and these extreme statements — when I talk about a civil war in the Republican Party, what I mean is, it's time for Republican elected leaders to stand up and to repudiate this nonsense, and to repudiate it directly,” Schmidt said.

“There has been a culture of fear and intimidation, that you are not a real conservative if you won’t, you know, if you won’t, you know ... stand up to these extreme statements, whether it's Rush Limbaugh calling that young lady a slut or a hundred other examples over the last four years.”

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“The conservative movement should have particular appeal to people in minority and immigrant communities who are trying to make it, and Republicans need to work harder than ever to communicate our beliefs to them," said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to The Huffington Post.

Erick Erickson, at “There was no fraud. There was no stealing the election. There was just a really good ground game from Barack Obama and a lot of smoke and mirrors from Team Romney and outside charlatans, many of whom will now go work for Republican Super PACs making six figure salaries, further draining the pockets of rich Republicans when not on television explaining how awesome and expert they are.”

“We have a period of reflection and recalibration ahead for the Republican Party,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, to McClatchy Newspapers. “While some will want to blame one wing of the party over the other, the reality is candidates from all corners of our GOP lost. ... Clearly, we have work to do in the weeks and months ahead.”

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VETERAN REPUBLICAN strategist Mike Murphy told NBC on Tuesday that “we’ve gotta modernize conservatism in a way that appeals to the demographics of the country we’ve got now, not the demographics of 1980 and 1988.”

But Murphy only gets to some of the problem for Republicans, its problems with perception and image. This isn’t about changing or modernizing the label on the can; it’s about a fundamental change of at least some of the formula inside the can.

That’s what makes the Republican challenge so potentially tectonic in how it’s resolved. The change required by the GOP originates with what’s baked into the Republican-conservative psyche, principles of culture and identity that are hard-wired into the Republican soul.

That’s more than just a matter of “modernization.”

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Republicans have long harbored a fear of compromising their principles; they hate the idea that they might do just that as a tradeoff for widening the tent-flap opening, of increasing their outreach to cohorts of the population that haven’t been inclined to vote Republican. They’re loath to “give away the store” of their values just to deepen the membership rolls.

There’s an easier test of how far Republicans may be willing to go to accommodate the inevitability of a changing national demographic. It’s not about policy prescriptions or potentially divisive economic proposals. It’s about real American values. It’s about the right to vote.

As Republicans engage in the ritual weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth in the wake of a big defeat, as they start to talk strategies for reaching more of America, one of the measures of how serious they are should be their position on voter suppression, voter ID laws — and voting rights in general.

THE COMING battle over the extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a fight expected to soon go before the Supreme Court, will be a great opportunity for some young-gun Republican to step out on principle and confront the ideas of Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Heritage Foundation and a touchstone of the modern conservative movement, who said this in Dallas in 1980:

“How many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome? Good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections, quite candidly, goes up as the voting populace goes down.” [Italics are entirely mine.]

If we would see a conservative movement and a Republican Party that’s truly, seriously ready to embrace the demographic future, we’ll see someone call the movement on that rationalized obscenity — and call on the party leadership to do the right thing vis-à-vis voting rights in America.

Until that happens, talk is cheap. Unless conservatives put some real distance between themselves and Weyrich’s toxic cri de Coeur (and those who take it to heart today), they’ll never be taken seriously by the various non-Republican demographic communities transforming America. And they shouldn’t be.

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Tuesday’s election showed the nation, as probably nothing else could, that the Republican Party in particular has finally been forced to confront the fact that the wellspring of its white, older, male, hetero, Christian history is increasingly exhausted — that, to borrow Sen. Lindsey Graham’s recent declaration, “we're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”

The Republican-conservative drive for ideological and cultural purity has many casualties, most of them inside the party itself.

Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen observed in Politico: “Think about 2010: In Delaware, Republicans rejected a slam-dunk winner in former governor and Rep. Mike Castle for a candidate who bought an ad declaring she is not a witch. They nominated one of the few Republicans in Nevada who could not beat the wounded and unpopular Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The reason was simple: The tea party activists didn’t give a hoot what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and establishment Republicans thought about their nominees. They wanted ideological purists, not the same wishy-washy Republicans they blamed for runaway government, even under GOP control.”

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IT’S THIS behavior — this litmus-test approach to party identity, this insistence on rigidly toeing the mark for acceptance, this intolerance for anyone who paints outside the lines — that’s the force driving the Republican Party off an existential cliff, marginalizing them with every election cycle. Right now, they might as well be the Whigs.

The word is out to all you “young guns,” all you “mavericks” of the GOP. Tuesday’s election was an unstoppable force. The future of the Republican Party rests on grasping an immutable fact: Your party confronts a wall and a mirror. They are the wall of irresistible population change, and the mirror that, as of Tuesday, has revealed your party’s shortcomings to the nation, and reflected those shortcomings back at you.

If the Republican Party plans to have a future, it can no longer avoid either one.

Image credits: Trump: CNN. Weyrich: People for the American Way, via youtube. Bottom illustration: Clay Bennett/Chattanooga Free Press.

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