Some Republicans are arguing they can win by writing off minority voters. But this would be bad for the GOP and terrible for the country.
Since the aftermath of the 2012 electoral defeat for the Republican Party there has been a lot of soul searching in the GOP about the path forward. Nowhere was this more evident than in internal discussions about the GOP’s dismal performance among all kinds of minority voters. The fact of the matter is the GOP did terribly on Election Day among minorities, losing more than seven out of ten Asian American and Latino voters. In addition, their loses among black voters in the 2012 Election were even worse while for the first time in history blacks voted at a higher rate than whites.
Some Republicans have argued that their party needs to make some major changes in language and even policy to appeal to minority voters, as Bobby Jindal put it “stop being the stupid party.” Unfortunately a number of prominent Republicans have been arguing that the GOP should ignore minority voters and instead just focus on whites. Most prominently journalist and political analyst Sean Trende who recently argued, “that whites who voted in 2008 but stayed home in 2012 were responsible for a large portion of the demographic change that we saw last election…” Trende is a respected journalist and numbers cruncher so his argument should be given respect, but I have to say this would be terrible for the Republican Party, and the country.
The demographic dynamics that are driving these major changes have been in the making for quite some time, and the racial math of the Obama era show a very different political landscape than just 25 years ago. Indeed while for George H. W. Bush wining 61% of the white vote was enough for a landslide in the Electoral College, Mitt Romney’s almost identical 59% of the white vote resulted in a solid win for Obama. Trende and others have argued that Republicans can win in 2016 or beyond for two main reasons. First, they argue that minority voters gravitated to Obama because of the historic nature of the first black President, and will turn out in lower numbers and less strength for the Democrats with Obama not on the ballot. Second, they claim that a large number of GOP leaning white voters stayed home in 2012 because the Republicans caved on important issues like immigration reform. But Trende is betting the political farm on the idea that whites will continue to support the GOP in high numbers. When in fact it’s quite possible that the Democrats in 2016 could enjoy continued high minority support while the Republican’s share of the white vote goes back to the level in the mid-50’s they won with Al Gore and John Kerry on the ballot, or maybe even worse. If this happens, the GOP would be in serious trouble in the long term.
The obvious alternative to this course of action is to change the way Republicans talk to minority voters. They could make big strides by no longer talking about things like anchor babies, Obamaphones, and self-deportation. New language would be no guarantee of success, the GOP might have to change the polices that minority voters don’t like as well, it would be a good first step. In short, the GOP could follow Jindal’s advice and ditch the “stupid party” stuff. It’s not hard; George W. Bush as recently as 2004 was making major inroads with Latino voters.
Predicting the future is notoriously difficult, and events like an unpopular war or election year recession could easily doom the Democrats in future elections. But more than being bad political strategy the idea that the GOP should write off minority voters would be terrible for our country. Fundamentally a democracy has to be rooted in the participation of all of us in our civic life. Political parties play a huge part in that by fulfilling all sorts of important roles. They hold the other side accountable, they organizing our public debate and they make sure elections really do matter. For one of America’s two great political parties to write off whole and growing demographic swaths of the electorate is to make that party fundamentally less democratic. And less democratic political intuitions would in turn weaken our entire democracy. Let’s hope Republicans toss this idea out along with the other “stupid party” stuff.
AP Photo by David Goldman