Will The GOP Fade To White?

Terrance Heath

Ronald Brownstein, at the National Journal, has  crunched numbers and demographic trends to explain why the GOP can’t win by pinning all its hopes on white voters. Brownstein’s work raises an important question: Can the GOP craft an economic message that keeps white working-class voters in the fold and attracts voters of color, while staying true to its principles?

The future of the Republican party may depend on it.

The 2012 election, Brownstein writes, was something of a wake-up call for Republicans. President Obama lost white voters by a larger margin than any presidential candidate in history, and lost ground with almost every segment of white voters since 2008. Yet, Obama handily won re-election with enthusiastic support from minority voters, and even made gains among white voters in Democrat-leaning and battleground states. For the first time in history, Black voter turnout surpassed White voter turnout.

IMG_0938Mitt Romney, by comparison, won just 17 percent of the minority vote — basically African-Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and any group categorized as “non-white.” Put another way, Romney lost 83 percent of the minority vote. That wouldn’t be a problem for Republicans, if the 2012 election was a fluke, and the non-white vote-share fall back to “normal” levels in 2016.

That’s what some Republicans are counting on. The GOP’s post-2012 efforts to “re-brand” the party in order to attract more women and minority voters proved unintentionally hilarious. Even as RNC chair Rience Priebus’ “Growth and Opportunity Commission” issued its dire warning to Republicans that “we will lose future elections” unless the GOP gets serious about reaching out to women and minorities, conservatives were busy providing more evidence of the problem.

No wonder Republicans’ on-again-off-again “re-branding” efforts seem to be off again. Some Republicans are back to hoping that 2012 was a fluke, that minority vote-share will fall back to “normal” levels, and that Republicans can win in 2016 by relying solely on white voters. But the 2012 election wasn’t an aberration. It was more evidence of demographic trends that have been a reality for three decades.

For the first time in history, census data shows that racial and ethnic minorities account for more than half the under-5 age group. The same data shows, also for the first time, that deaths now exceed births among white Americans. That makes it likely that non-Hispanic whites will become a minority group in the next 30 years. As that happens, white vote-share will continue to decline as it has in almost every election since 1980. If Republicans are going to win with white voters only, they’re going to have to halt and reverse trends that have been underway for 30 years. And they’re going to have to do it fast.

Instead, Brownstein writes, some Republicans are hoping that the “multi-American” coalition that delivered Obama’s 2012 victory will simply splinter. Sam Trende of Real Clear Politics epitomizes these Republicans. Trende assumes that “it’s entirely possible that as our nation becomes more diverse, our political coalitions will increasingly fracture along racial/ethnic lines rather than ideological ones.” This will give the GOP an advantage, creating an opportunity to seize power as diverse coalitions collapse.

It sounds like the political version of Charles Manson’s Helter Skelter scenario, and it just isn’t likely to work. Brownstein notes that the vote-shares of groups of whites that Republicans have always been able to count on are shrinking. Republicans have done well among whites without college degrees — representing the white working-class — but their vote-share has declined in almost every election since 1984, reaching new low of 36 percent in 2010. Meanwhile, Democrats have gained ground with the growing number of white voters who identify as “unaffiliated” when it comes to religion.

Michael Tomasky predicted earlier this summer that whites — even working-class whites —will abandon the GOP. The Republicans’ flawed assumption, Tomasky says, is that white voters will always be as conservative as they are now, and will always vote Republican. Two months before the 2012 election, a Public Religion Research Institute poll found that a majority of working-class whites supported raising taxes for the wealthy, and 70 percent believed the current economic system favors the wealthy. (The writing is already on the wall. If Republicans want to hold on to even the white-working class vote, they’re going to have to work on the economic messaging and policy.)

Republicans who are holding out hope that younger voters will lean more Republican as they get older may be disappointed. Generations don’t inherently shift rightward with age, and the GOP’s growing generation gap on social issues (like same-sex marriage) is suggests today’s younger voters aren’t going resemble yesterdays’ conservative voters.

Trende and other conservatives are missing an important point. In 2008 and 2012, Barack Obama showed that it was possible to build a diverse winning coalition of Blacks, whites, Latinos, women, gays and lesbians, etc., with a message that emphasized jobs, prosperity, and economic justice for all.

While Republicans like Trende are hoping that emerging multi-ethnic coalitions will “fracture,” working- and middle-class Americans, Blacks, Whites, Latinos, women, gays and other groups are coming together to stand against the GOP’s extremist agenda. In North Carolina, Rev. Dr. William Barber organized Moral Mondays, in response to a Republican agenda that amount to an across-the-board attack on the poor, minorities, the working-class and middle class, women, young people and the unemployed.

Instead of “fracturing,” diverse groups in North Carolina turned to “fusion politics.”

“We recognized that many of the same political forces that are against, say, gender rights, are often also against education equality, environmental justice, and policies that help the poor,” Barber said, explaining the beginnings of the Moral Mondays movement. “And so we said that we needed in North Carolina — and we said this is when Democrats were in office — to have a new form of fusion politics if we were going to really address the South.”

…The new “fusion politics” fuses together political issues that are often seen and addressed as separate concerns. This “fusion” is reflected in the 14 point agenda of the HKonJ movement, which embraced issues like public education, livable wages, health care, voting rights, environmental justice, collective bargaining and workers’ rights in the context of “liberty and justice for all.”

It remains to be seen whether Republicans can replicate the kind of “fusion” politics that helped build the Moral Mondays movement, in a way that doesn’t conflict with their values or principles.

Will the GOP “fade to white” or adapt to emerging political and demographic realities? So far, it doesn’t appear that they’re even trying.

Last month, the 50th anniversary of the March On Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream Speech” offer an ideal opportunity for any elected officials to reach out to thousands of African-Americans gathered on the National Mall, and many more across the country who watched the events on television or online. Just showing up would have made an impression, and suggested serious concern about civil rights and economic issues impacting African-Americans.

Yet, Republicans were a no-show. Every single Republican invited to speak declined the invitation. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor skipped out to meet with oil lobbyists, and was unable to find a single Republican to speak in his place. Speaker John Boehner chose to speak at a separate GOP-sponsored event commemorating the anniversary.

Maybe Republicans aversion to appearing on the same stage as President Obama outweighed the opportunity to speak to a huge audience of African-Americans. Maybe fear of punishment from the tea partiers kept Republicans away. But their absence left the impression that Republicans have nothing to say to minority voters.

If that’s the case, Republicans may get their wish. The GOP may become an exclusively white party, relying on an ever-dwindling number of white voters.

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