Whether Karl Rove has finally come around or not, the end of the 2012 election should signal the death knell for current Republican strategy. They suffered defeat despite a struggling incumbent battling economic downturn, in a political environment that saw much of Europe turn to new leadership amidst financial uncertainty. The Tea Party movement is over, with short-term gains achieved during the 2010 midterms already being pushed back. Conservative pundits are acknowledging that the far-right ideologies represented by the candidates who emerged victorious from Republican primaries made winning Congress seats much more difficult in a year where Democrats were vulnerable. But the largest challenge by far faced by the GOP going forward is a combination of economics and demographics.
As Ezra Klein points out, the party in power during an economic recovery enjoys prolonged electoral success in virtually every recorded instance. Just as Barack Obama was punished in opinion polls for a worldwide recession that began before he took office, he and his potential successor will benefit from improving employment numbers and economic growth in the next few years. That this recovery is inevitable in the course of the business cycle, or that it could possibly have turned out stronger without Obama, as we’ve previously mentioned, is irrelevant in this case. Larry Bartels eloquently explains voter ignorance, ending on a bitter note for believers in electoral rationality:
[V]oters simply—and simple-mindedly—rewarded whoever happened to be in power when things got better. Stupid? No, just human.
While America suffered the worst recession since the Great Depression, the current Republican strategy of obstructionism might be characterized as harmful but effective during Obama’s first term. But this approach has already lost once, and will continue to hemorrhage popular support as the economic recovery picks up speed despite John Boehner’s best efforts. The more pressing issue, though, is that time is also on the side of the Democrats.
The simple truth of the matter is that Republicans are losing the youth vote, and losing it badly. And the future bodes even worse – because while it would be nice to imagine that voters are actually influenced by the substantive issues of the day, the most important factor by far determining party affiliation and voting preference is the popularity of the President in office when turning 18.
So while the Republican base is dying off, Democrats stand to gain another entire generation of first-time voters, likely to stay left-leaning their entire lives, simply by virtue of being the public face of the recovery.
And that’s still not the end of Republican troubles. The only voting quadrant they have a majority in – white males – is shrinking, while the number of minority voters, and especially Hispanic voters, continues to rise.
So. Republicans just lost two Presidential elections in a row, and face dwindling demographic support while President Obama and the Democratic Party stand to profit from the natural economic development over the next four years. Continued attempts to obstruct legislation and move further to the right on social and economic issues would serve merely as the desperate last attempts to save a movement in decline, and would seem to have increasingly dire chances of winning. And even in the event of a victory in four years, Republicans are lost without a long-term strategy to grow their voter base.
What the GOP needs is a radical rethinking of its values, similar to the challenges the Democrats faced during the 1980’s. A decade of financial prosperity under a popular Republican President forced the Democratic Party back to the center of the political spectrum. When Bill Clinton defeated the incumbent George H.W. Bush in 1992, it signified a successful ideological shift for the Democrats, who finally moved on from the Carter years and embraced a moderate Southerner as their candidate.
Now, Marco Rubio is a good start for Republicans, but simply nominating a minority candidate would be far from enough to win the Latino electorate. In the current political climate, such a move might possibly alienate the vocal Republican base, while their policy initiatives would fail to resonate with immigrants and second-generation Americans. Ironically, it was another Republican immigrant who provided what I regard as the best blueprint for the GOP moving forward, and it’s probably not who you think: Arnold Schwarzenegger. The former Governor of California speaks clearly about real issues without falling back on political talking points, and provides a vision of how a modern-day version of a Reagan Republican might actually look.
As unrealistic as it is to imagine the GOP taking its cues from an adulterous movie-icon with no real experience, Schwarzenegger’s own political ideals offer a way back towards the center of the political spectrum, and towards the facts. It is often said that “reality has a well-known liberal bias,” a saying that must lose relevance in this age of instant fact-checking if Republicans are to win back the next generation of tech-savvy voters. Because they sure as hell need something to appeal to the youth segment, and I hope it’s not hiring a marketing firm to rewrite Gangnam Style for Chris Christie.
That’s where the ideas suggested by the Terminator come in. There’s nothing inherently wrong with fiscal responsibility and efficient government – those messages should in fact resonate with a generation unwilling to shoulder America’s entire foreign debt. Where the problems start are when you ignore all scientific evidence to deny global warming, and continue to fight a battle lost years ago, trying to keep from homosexual citizens the same rights all other Americans enjoy. This is where the Republican party needs to forget the last twenty years, and full-on embrace the realities of the 21st century. There’s no reason why a sensible approach to dealing with carbon emissions would necessarily harm the free market at all, and plenty of reasons to suggest that green technologies and the companies that lead the field will be a motor of growth in the future. At the same time, the party that claims to support minimal government intervention could finally become the standard-bearer for personal liberty in more than name only. And finally, winning the battle over immigration reform not by blindly opposing anything the Obama administration suggests, but instead by pro-actively implementing solutions that would provide immigrants with a clear path to citizenship under the right circumstances would endear the GOP to the fastest-growing voting block in the nation.
I say this not out of any particular fondness for the Republican platform, but rather because I think it could work. And I don’t care what color the President’s tie is in ten years, as long as the political climate becomes less toxic than it is currently. If political battles could be fought over nuance rather than the very basis of reality, the probability of effective legislation being created rises exponentially. A forward-thinking Republican Party could make gains not only for themselves, but for all of us.