Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A party fades slowly

This morning, and on Sunday, I mentioned Eric Cantor’s phony call for tolerance in his party. While I’m certain he was being insincere, I haven’t said what I thought he was actually up to, and that’s one word: Survival.

The Republican Party, with its rigidly ideological rightwing focus, is completely out of touch with the values of mainstream Americans. Most Americans support abortion, at least in some circumstances, and they absolutely support the right to birth control. Most Americans support legal recognition of same-sex relationships, and a majority back marriage equality. A majority of Americans even support restrictions on automatic weapons. Yet the Republican Party takes a position opposite to mainstream America on all these issues.

It’s not surprising that they should be out of touch: Consider who they have to work with:

The 2010 elections brought in a horde of new Congress Critters who were not in any way “traditional Republicans”, nor the group the far right hates the most, “Establishment Republicans.” Instead, they were hard right ideologues who pledged to put ideology ahead of everything else: No tax hikes ever, no matter how valid the reason or how dire the national emergency; no compromise with Democrats on anything, ever; steadfast resolve to outlaw abortion, birth control and marriage equality; promotion of policies that favour corporations and the “one percent”—and they do all that even—sometimes especially, it seems—when it’s against the best interests of the country, of democracy and certainly their own party. They could be replaced with machines and no one would notice.

The consequences of this rigid orthodoxy is that the party is dying: The average Republican voter is increasingly older, even elderly, and white. Republicans can’t connect with young voters, Black or Hispanic voters, it has problems reaching women and actively rejects GLBT voters. They’re so busy excluding parts of America that they forgot they actually need to include some voters.

And that’s what Eric Cantor’s PR stunt was all about: Trying to rescue the party before it slips completely into irrelevance and oblivion, as it is on track to do. If that seems far-fetched, consider the decline of the Republican Party in just one state, California.

California is by far the most populated state in the US, and by itself has twenty percent of the votes in the Electoral College, which determines who is elected president. The state that was home to Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan doesn’t have a single Republican statewide elected official. The party now has only 30% of registered voters, compared to 41% for Democrats and 21% for independents. Within roughly six years, Republicans will be third, behind Democrats and independents.

This happened because the California Republican Party has become fixated on rigid ideological orthodoxy, becoming far too extreme for mainstream California voters, while trying to expel heretics within its own ranks. They nominate extremists for statewide office who then go down to screaming defeat.

Mainstream California voters have nothing in common with a national party dominated by Southern social conservatives, nor with a state party that refuses to acknowledge the importance of Latino voters.

Their state party leaders think that the state’s economic woes will mean voters will inevitably turn to them. That’s wishful thinking. They remain extremist compared to mainstream voters, and their rift with Latino voters is probably unbridgeable.

Eric Cantor knows all this, and that the same problems are repeated throughout the country. So, he and his media advisors think that if they can say the right words, make the right noises about tolerance, they can fool voters into supporting them.

Voters aren’t stupid. They know that a pig in a tuxedo is still a pig, and a Republican putting on a suit of tolerance is still a Republican.

And that’s why Eric Cantor was trying to fool American voters that the party might become more tolerant. However, neither he nor his party can fight the effects of demographics, a problem they face because of the way the party is, not simply how it appears.

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