After Mitt Romney lost badly in the 2012 presidential election, the Republican National Committee decided to sit down and do some soul-searching and some research. The result was a lengthy paper called the Growth and Opportunity Project. More than anything, it was an attempt to explain why the party had lost the most recent election and to offer some corrective actions that would enable the party to stop making the same mistakes. Right from the beginning, in the introduction, the authors were blunt about where the party stood and how they were faring with the youth and minority constituencies.
Public perception of the Party is at record lows. Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the Party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country. When someone rolls their eyes at us, they are not likely to open their ears to us.
Of course, now comes the collective freak out about Mexican immigrants and a party front-runner in Donald Trump who explicitly says that he doesn’t want Mexicans in this country.
The report was also unsparing about the lack of fresh ideas coming out of the conservative movement.
At our core, Republicans have comfortably remained the Party of Reagan without figuring out what comes next. Ronald Reagan is a Republican hero and role model who was first elected 33 years ago— meaning no one under the age of 51 today was old enough to vote for Reagan when he first ran for President. Our Party knows how to appeal to older voters, but we have lost our way with younger ones. We sound increasingly out of touch.
As Mike Gerson and Pete Wehner wrote recently, “It is no wonder that Republican policies can seem stale; they are very nearly identical to those offered up by the Party more than 30 years ago. For Republicans to design an agenda that applies to the conditions of 1980 is as if Ronald Reagan designed his agenda for conditions that existed in the Truman years.”
They seemed out of touch so they decided to go on a Benghazi witchhunt for the next three years, obsess over gay marriage cakes, attack Obamacare with an endless stream of hopeless legal cases, and make Mexicans their top priority domestic agenda item. This was supposed to resonate with the youth vote in what way?
The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.
Instead of driving around in circles on an ideological cul-de-sac, we need a Party whose brand of conservatism invites and inspires new people to visit us. We need to remain America’s conservative alternative to big-government, redistribution-to-extremes liberalism, while building a route into our Party that a non-traditional Republican will want to travel. Our standard should not be universal purity; it should be a more welcoming conservatism.
At least in some senses, although not the intended ones, Donald Trump satisfies these requirements. Trump is persuasive to a lot of people who either have given up on the Republican Party or never were engaged in politics much in the first place. So, he is inviting and inspiring to some “new” people, some of whom are “non-traditional Republicans” and some of whom are undoubtedly part of the youth vote.
But it’s kind of like Trump drove his bus right into the ideological cul-de-sac, set up a party tent in the circle, and began a block party. The right isn’t driving around in circles anymore because they either joined the party or are too busy gawking at the party to operate a motor vehicle.
Another way of looking at it is that the right has been moving with a basic hive-mentality for a long while, with individual members moving as directed by orchestrators who control their media platforms. The guys operating the Wurlitzer move them from William Ayers to Saul Alinsky to Solyndra to Fast & Furious to Benghazi! to Hillary’s email account at the State Department. The effect is so powerful that the whole right was converted to global climate science denialism within a matter of weeks once the organ grinders began that tune. Only weeks before they had had no problem with a carbon tax proposed by their candidates John McCain and Sarah Palin. But, today, they’re all convinced that scientists are perpetrating some kind of left-wing hoax on them.
There’s great power in being able to move public opinion like this, and the left has nothing like it. But Trump has interfered with the smooth operation of this mechanism of control. As long as he’s holding this block party, the people are too distracted to get their marching orders. They stop driving thoughtlessly around the ideological cul-de-sac.
The problem is, they still aren’t reaching anyone who doesn’t live on this block.
A recent example of this happened during the first Republican debates. The debates, you’ll remember, were broken in two to accommodate the eleventy billion people who wanted to appear in them. The first debate, also known as the Kiddie Table debate, featured former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. She did a passable job and certainly didn’t embarrass herself, but she didn’t exactly stick out from the crowd, either. Nonetheless, prior to the main event, the moderators, including the soon-to-be-much-more-famous Megyn Kelly, declared Fiorina as the clear winner of the first debate. This analysis, which seemed inappropriate from people who were about to moderate the second debate, was echoed by many talking head analysts on the network, and also spread widely though social media. It was obvious that they had their marching orders from the organ grinders in the corporate offices.
But, while Fiorina certainly enjoyed a bump, the effect was really rather muted.
Likewise, Fox arranged to have Frank Luntz do a focus group after the second debate which was carefully selected to provide a sample that would express their disappointment in Donald Trump’s performance. Thus, Fox was prepared to hype Fiorina and pan Trump before the debates even occurred, and that’s what they did.
How has it worked out?
The answer is that it hasn’t worked out nearly as well as their effort to turn people against climate science or to get them obsessed about Henry Louis Gates or in-person voter fraud.
But this isn’t really Trump’s fault. First, they didn’t play the correct tunes on the Wurlitzer. The RNC report said the following:
If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence. It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies. In the last election, Governor Romney received just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote. Other minority communities, including Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, also view the Party as unwelcoming. President Bush got 44 percent of the Asian vote in 2004; our presidential nominee received only 26 percent in 2012.
As one conservative, Tea-Party leader, Dick Armey, told us, “You can’t call someone ugly and expect them to go to the prom with you. We’ve chased the Hispanic voter out of his natural home.”
We are not a policy committee, but among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all.
The Republicans initially took this advice to heart and the Senate Republicans didn’t stand in the way of passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013. In fact, more than a dozen Republican senators voted for the bill, giving it a good deal of bipartisan support. House Republicans, however, wanted nothing to do with the bill and let it die.
Among the candidates for president who supported immigration reform, including chiefly Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, they now believe that it’s a total political loser for them and that Trump’s position is too strong to really challenge.
And Trump is going beyond self-deportation to actually talking about forcible deportation. And tonight he had Jorge Ramos (the Walter Cronkite of Spanish-language news) forcibly deported from his press conference in Iowa.
While Trump did invite Ramos back and attempted to answer his questions, the damage was done.
The thing is, this is only going to make Trump more popular with the Republican Party base. And that’s because the party base wants no part of the RNC’s advice on how to win a majority of the Electoral College votes.
Younger voters are increasingly put off by the GOP. A post-election survey of voters ages 18-29 in the battleground states of Virginia, Ohio, Florida, and Colorado found that Republicans have an almost 1:2 favorable/unfavorable rating. Democrats have an almost 2:1 favorable rating.
For the GOP to appeal to younger voters, we do not have to agree on every issue, but we do need to make sure young people do not see the Party as totally intolerant of alternative points of view.
Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be.
If our Party is not welcoming and inclusive, young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out.
In a future post, I may look at the other recommendations made in this report to see how they’re working out, but for tonight I am focused on these introductory ideas.
Mainly, the party should pass immigration reform, become gay-neutral to gay-friendly, and do aggressive outreach to minority communities while working hard to tamp down any signs of “intolerance” for certain groups or points of view.
These weren’t recommended as ideologically superior positions to take. They were recommended as absolute prerequisites for getting a fair hearing to discuss their ideology at all. If they didn’t do these things, the prediction was that so many people would tune them out that they’d never even get the chance to make an argument on the merits of their economic or foreign policy ideas.
But the party didn’t just reject this advice, they rejected it with extreme prejudice. And the media outlets that might have tried to move the hive towards tolerance did not pursue that path, or did so with too little conviction and too much conflicting information.
On gay marriage, it got so bad that corporate America had to step in and tell them that they wouldn’t do business in states that discriminated against gays. On deportation, they didn’t pass reform and then made Mexicans one of their top problems to discuss in the campaign. On seeming tolerant, they’ve failed more miserably than ever.
Somehow, though, this was all supposed to turn on a dime when the presidential election started. All this hate and resentment and bigotry was supposed to just get turned off and Jeb Bush would waltz in with his sunny Reaganesque nobility and his love of amnesty and Common Core and his Mexican wife and family and his brother’s record of conservative betrayals, and the hive would settle down and get back driving around that ideological cul-de-sac like good little stormtroopers.
But these aren’t good little stormtroopers. These are genuine ruffians. And they’re having a block party and they’ve got their own music provided by Donald Trump.
And, because they’ve got their own music now, they’re going off the conservative script. They don’t give a damn that Donald Trump disagrees with them about Planned Parenthood and once called for single-payer health care. They don’t care about any of his heresies because they’re not getting that Queen Bee’s instructions anymore.
They’ve got a new Queen Bee.
Now, maybe the organ grinders can pull this all together and get Bush over the finish line, but it sure isn’t looking too promising right now.
[Cross-posted at Progress Pond]