Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Candidate Trump and the Last Hurrah of the White Republican Voter

by Nomad

The GOP has long ignored the warnings and continued to court a shrinking audience of angry white voters. Indeed, his rise to the top of the Republican party may just spell the end of hopes for ever winning presidential elections.

Writing for the website Salon, Heather "Digby" Parton has analyzed the present confused political situation in an op-ed piece and came to interesting conclusions about what's really going on. 
Pointing out that Obama won reelection by getting the smallest share of white voters of any presidential candidate in history, Parton suggests that this is a sign of the marginalization of the white vote. And that's something that's  very likely to continue whether Republican candidates recognize it or not. 

Ideological Reinforcement of Like-Minded People
The Republican establishment may think that simply by im­prov­ing turnout they can take back the White House. With Trump at the helm, there is not much chance for much-needed reform of the GOP agenda. In short, Trump is taking the party to a place where it will not survive. 
Not a party for the entire country but a party with a country club mentality with an ever-shrinking membership.

The necessity for reform was underscored by the Republican National Committee's so-called autopsy report after Romney's defeat. 
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.
That  Growth and Opportunity Project report recommended (quite sensibly) that the Republican Party had to "invite and inspire new people to visit." The GOP should be "building a route into our Party that a non-traditional Republican will want to travel." 
Otherwise presidential elections were a waste of time and money. 

Yet last year, what did RNC Chairman Reince Priebus- who commissioned the multi-million dollar research- say when he was asked about Donald Trump and his effect on the party? Last August, Priebus called Trump "a net positive for the Republican Party."

That's the candidate who is doing exactly the opposite of what the report suggested. Priebus was fine with Trump and publicly declared that he was never concerned Donald. 
(Finally under tremendous pressure, Priebus finally put his foot down when Trump declared that Muslims ought to be banned  from entering the US.)  

Meanwhile instead of welcoming the non-traditional Republican, Trump would prefer to have them escorted out of the building. You don't inspire new voters by insulting them but Trumps' angry white voters just eat it up like pigeons in the park. 
Even though Republican political analysts have given warnings, it's full steam ahead: appeal to long-simmering grievances (whether real or imaginary) of the white voter.

To give him credit, Trump has proved to be an expert at taking political advantage of this bitterness. However, it is a case of diminishing returns. 
Openly racist statements and over-the-top rhetoric might play well to a narrow segment of the population but for Independent  voters who lean to the right, Trump is likely to be a major turn off.

The damage he has done to the party -in terms of party diversity and respectability- is a wonder to behold. The fact that the Republican establishment has, as yet, find no way to stop him or even offer no real alternative for die-hard Republican voters is telling.
Many strategists, she notes, point out, 
minor­ity out­reach and im­mig­ra­tion re­form as crit­ic­al to restor­ing the party’s com­pet­it­ive­ness — and con­sider it sui­cid­al for the GOP to bet its fu­ture on the pro­spect that it can squeeze even lar­ger ad­vant­ages out of the di­min­ish­ing pool of white voters.
Karl Rove, the chief strategist for George W. Bush’s two pres­id­en­tial vic­tor­ies, warned that focusing on this single demographic  is exceedingly risky. Perfect storms are an unusual thing and that's what it will take for Republicans to win presidential elections from now on. 

Rove has said that conservatives should not expect Reagan miracles every election. Thinking the party can return to the White House based only on the white vote is very foolish. 
And yet, that's exactly what is happening. 
Come November, a lot of people are going to be in for the shock of their lives when they realize that the days of 1984 are long gone and will never return.

Backward Drift for a Mythic America
One has to be blind not to have seen that political landscape has undergone some fairly incredible changes in the last ten year or twenty years. 
If a time traveler could go back to 1990 and told the average conservative that the majority of Americans would support same-sex marriage, the hapless conservative might have been seized with chest pains and collapsed. 
And in some ways, that's exactly what is happening to the Republican party in general.

Citing Ronald Brownstein of The National Journal, Parton writes:
Re­pub­lic­ans rep­res­ent a co­ali­tion of res­tor­a­tion centered on the groups most un­settled by the changes (primar­ily older, non­col­lege, rur­al, and re­li­giously de­vout whites). Demo­crats mo­bil­ize a co­ali­tion of trans­form­a­tion that re­volves around the heav­ily urb­an­ized groups (mil­len­ni­als, people of col­or, and col­lege-edu­cated, single, and sec­u­lar whites, es­pe­cially wo­men) most com­fort­able with these trends.
When one examines the demographic category of race, the Democratic Party seems to reflect the reality of modern America while Republican party- bereft of any forward-looking agenda- seems bent of taking America back to pre-1960, the largely- mythic glory days of white America. 

Why mythic? you might ask. Every time a Republican points to a better past in the US, he or she tends to overlook some glaring differences to the Republican of then and the GOP of today. President Eisenhower wasn't afraid to raise taxes on the rich to pay the American way of life. He wasn't afraid to create a huge public works program. He didn't have any problem with investing in America and the American middle class.

So too, President Reagan might have talked about smaller government but after taking office, it was a different story. Reagan wasn't afraid to raise the debt ceiling. As President Obama pointed out, Reagan raised the ceiling 18 times.

The ancient Greeks considered nostalgia an illness and with the Republican party, it might well be a terminal one.
 *   *   *
There are other problems too. The voter share has dramatically shifted.
In 2012 whites accounted for 90 percent of the GOP primary and general election vote and the last time whites were 90 percent of the country was in 1960. Those were good times for white men, for sure. For everyone else not so much. Today people of color equal just over 37 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans and are on track to be a majority in the next 15 years.
Trying to gerrymander an election victory and returning to Jim Crow will only delay the inevitable. The tide is changing so trying to hold that tide back is fun to watch but the outcome is predictable.

The Christian Right Gone Wrong
Another factor Parton mentions is the Christian Right. Since Reagan, the Christian Right has firmly sided with the Republican conservatives. Reagan swung them onto his side with promises to draft an anti-abortion Right to Life amendment, and by approving of prayers in school and few other agenda items. It worked well for a time though some said it was more about power than about Christian tradition.

Since around 2004, however, the Christian Right has been playing an increasingly marginal role in presidential politics. The views of mainstream America- even Christian Americans- are not reflected in the agenda of the Christian Right.  

That hasn't stopped Republican candidates. The march to Liberty University has taken on the appearance of a pilgrimage to Lourdes, with pathetic struggling candidates in search of a miracle or two. They lamely continue to  attempt to appeal to evangelist voters. The culture is undergoing change and somebody forgot to tell the GOP.  

Michael Kazin of the New Republic, observed in 2012, that the Christian Right is "a fading force in American life, one which has little chance of achieving its cherished goals."
If they still hope to transform our pluralistic, profane culture into a new Jerusalem, Christian conservatives will have to find new holy battles to wage. The old ones and their crusaders are rapidly aging.
That was in 2012 and since then, there have been no new crusades on the agenda. And that's left the GOP with unwinnable issues, like same-sex marriage and abortion. And those past crusades, even if they are loathed to admit, are now lost causes.

The Republican miscalculation- it's a failure of leadership actually- is based on a faulty analysis of their voter base. Parton points out:
White Christians (whether sincere or not) make up 69 percent of Republicans. There haven’t been that many white Christians in America since 1984, the year they ran the table with 49 states and which Karl Rove pointed out they have to repeat if they fail to attract anything but white voters. They represent just 46 percent of the population these days.
That's the best case scenario, all whites, and all Christians and it still appears to come up short. 
Christian Americans may not be not quite as willing to follow an intolerant agenda anymore. Especially when Republican abject support for the 1% (at the cost of the poor and needy) would seem to run against the spirit of Christian virtue.

Evidence of the Implosion
Here's some evidence of the decline of the evangelist vote.
Quick question: Do you recall who the Christian Right endorsed in 2012? A group of more than 100 influential Christian conservatives met in Texas and decided that one candidate deserved their support. Remember? 
It was Rick Santorum. (They apparently couldn't stomach the idea of a Mormon president.)

Santorum's appeal was based on his outspoken and generally overblown intolerance. This is the man who compared same-sex marriage to the 9/11 attacks and legalized abortion to genocide. This is the man who actually said that contraception was "not OK because it's a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be." 
When Santorum talked about the dangers of "the whole sexual libertine idea, " it was like listening to a mashup of Cotton Mather and Jerry Falwell with a side order Pat Robertson. 

Today in 2016, Santorum is again running for president and he currently has a 1% approval rating in the polls. Clearly Santorum hasn't changed his positions (don't be silly) and clearly the Christian Right hasn't changed their opinions. That strongly suggests that even among Republican voters, the Christian Right's great white hope is just not appealing in the least. 

The death watch for Santorum presidential campaign has already begun. Who the Christian Right will ultimately support in this year's election probably won't make a bit of difference. (I hope it will be Huckabee, just because I have a fiendish sense of humor.)
Too many voters have simply stopped caring what these self-important people, like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, think.
The country has moved on, the Republican voters have moved on but the Republican Party continues to appeal to a demographic that is shrinking to thumbtack-size.  

And the candidates should have known better.  Immediately after the 2012 election, The New York Times explained that 
Christian conservatives, for more than two decades a pivotal force in American politics, are grappling with Election Day results that repudiated their influence and suggested that the cultural tide — especially on gay issues — has shifted against them.
If anything, that shift is, even more obvious now.

Maybe there will be a miraculous resurrection of the Christian Right but nobody should hold their breath. In any case, it's hard to imagine the evangelists ever endorsing Donald Trump. 

The Dead End
Parton draws this conclusion in her essay:
These demographic changes are irrevocable and the social progress that’s been made is not going backward. We are not going back to 1960 or 1984 or 1997. But that does not mean that the cultural traditions and values that conservatives hold dear will disappear.
As Parton notes, Republicans are so lost in their nostalgia for the old days that they cannot compromise or cooperate. Too many crave for the good old days never existed (or never as they like to remember) The good life was based on some fairly un-American ideas, like class prejudice. limited equality for women, and skin-based privilege. Today that's not a platform the rest of the nation will accept.

Words like "one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all" really are the platform of  a party that wins elections- at least, presidential elections. (The verdict is still out for local, state and Congressional elections.)

Until the Republican establishment realizes the need for drastic reform, it's going to down at light speed. If change is not possible from within then it will be up to the Independents and Democratic voters. Parton writes:
Until the diverse Democratic party achieves majority status or the Republicans accept the future and realize that tolerance for differences among their fellow citizens does not mean they must give up their own values, this battle is going to continue.
Tolerance is clearly not a high priority for the Trump campaign. He equates it with all that "politically-correct" nonsense.

Unless the Republican Party can re-package its brand and recognize that a new America is forming before their noses, things will not get better. So far, all the signs suggest that it won't happen in 2016 and probably not anytime soon. At this rate, this could be the party's last hurrah.

The next election will be a turning point for America (I say that every election). The Republican party, in particular, is under tremendous pressure to reform and instead it is faced with Donald Trump.
All in all, it is an epitome of the Republican dead-end. 

One thing voters both on the Left and on the Right can agree on: The current situation has left the nation without a credible opposition- a thing of utmost importance in a two-party system.