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Demographics? Or Issues? Turns out there’s no difference


So as people analyze the Democratic wins (and Republican losses) in the 2012 elections, one theme is emerging as a common point of agreement: the changing demographic characteristics of the United States have hurt the too-white, too-male constituency of the current Republican Party.

One hears versions of this everywhere. Paul Ryan emphasized Obama’s “urban” vote — and we know what “urban” signifies. Mitt Romney has talked about Obama’s “gifts” to various groups … gifts taken from, no doubt, Republicans. Examples are easy to find.

As it happens, I agree with these analyses. Republicans are too white and too male. If they continue in this state, the party is in serious trouble in a changing America.

But this demographic analysis lets Republicans off the hook far too easily. It implies that if they change their public face — e.g., run candidates like Marco Rubio for office — they will fix the demographic gap. Toss in some candidates who are female and, well, Shan-gri-la apparently awaits!

What this argument misses, of course, is the answer to the question, “why”? Why have so many different groups of people abandoned a party that, twice in the last 40 years, set all time records for electoral college margins of victory. (521-17 for Nixon in 1972; 525-13 for Reagan in 1984.) Heck, the first President Bush got 426 electoral college votes in 1988. Now they have lost the popular vote in four of the last five presidential elections. How has this happened?

The plain answer is: the leaders of the Republican Party have squandered the party’s advantages by appealing to the worst, basest instincts of a small segment of the electorate:

  • Latino/a? The Republican Party’s leaders are virulently anti-immigrant.
  • Female? The party’s leaders are happy to legislate your sexuality before you give birth, but is indifferent to you once you give birth.
  • Poor? You’re a taker.
  • Minority? The party seems convinced your life is little more than drugs, crime, prisons and pathologies.
  • Worried about the financial meltdown? Don’t regulate the Masters of the Universe, cut their taxes.
  • Health concerns? Go to the emergency room. 
  • Believe in science? You’re a member of the “reality-based community” that spins lies from hell.
  • Like to pay for college? Make sure you pay the bankers their interest.

This list could go on and on.

The Republican Party’s demographic problem is real. But it’s a problem rooted in policy. The Republican Party, which as recently as 2004 seemed poised to achieve the mythical “permanent Republican majority,” now risks falling into history if it can’t articulate a policy agenda that fits the real world of US politics.

There’s nothing like losing to focus the mind. We’ll see how the party makes out.