I guess the fundamental question is whether this was a normal defeat or something else.
If it was the former, there’s not much for the Republicans to fret about. Mitt Romney very nearly won the popular vote, after all, he had a better electoral college showing than John McCain, and only lost the most important swing states by thin percentiles well within the margin of error of most pre-election polls. America has seen truly hopeless elections in the recent past — Mondale vs. Reagan in 1984, for instance, or McGovern vs. Nixon in 1972 — and this wasn’t one of them. Dreams of a Romney White House may look implausible in retrospect, but the goal was never impossible.
On the other hand, maybe narrow losses are the best the GOP can hope for going forward. America’s demographic math seems stubbornly determined to prevent a Republican future, and 2012 may very well represent a point of no return. In the days since November 6, what was once a quiet point of pride among liberals and secret dread amongst conservatives is now being shouted from every newspaper headline: Republicans are too white to win.
Since 1980, the white share of the American “voting populace” (ie; adults) has shrunk 15%, while the black and Hispanic share rose two percentage points each since 2008. This means that even though Obama, like most Democrats, lost the white vote quite decisively — 39% to 59% — his share of the country’s two biggest minority groups’ was so overwhelming — 93% and 71% respectively — it was basically a non-issue.
The entire premise underlying the optimistic 2012 predictions of so many conservatives— from Dick Morris to the”unskewed polls” movement to the Romney campaign itself — was entirely based on the naive assumption that 2008 was some sort of giddy minority-vote outlier. Surely blacks and Hispanics wouldn’t turn out in nearly such ample droves this time, they hoped. Surely some naturally conservative minority constituency would drift back to the GOP after the initial thrill of the first minority president wore off.
Wrong and wrong, it seems. If future elections are to be entirely decided by nothing more than sheer mobilization of the base, it’s hard to see a Republican path back to 1600 Pennsylvania, especially since we all know who’s winning the baby wars these days.
There’s a lot of different ways conservatives can respond to this data. To many Republicans, the incentive is simply to continue an initiative begun with some success during the George W. Bush years (but largely ignored since), and pander to Latinos, those honest, hard-working, God-fearing, “natural conservatives,” openly and aggressively. Already several leading right-wing pundits, Charles Krauthammer and Sean Hannity amongst them, have suggested that it’s time for the GOP to just bite the bullet and endorse amnesty for illegals, convinced as they are that nothing short of an outright explosion of the two-party dialogue on immigration will come close to winning conservative trust from this most critical community.
The only question is, how to do you then ensue the white backlash doesn’t cancel out the Hispanic gains?
You can’t, say those on the harder right side of the spectrum, particularly the so-called “alt-right” blogosphere. There, the consensus view is that the Republicans’ demographic reality as the party of “white America” is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed of, and in fact dictates a far more logical path to the presidency than the uncertain fruits of some theoretical minority outreach. After all, what victory scenario sounds more plausible, asks Jared Taylor, head of the unapologetically (to put it gently) pro-white American Renaissance – the idea that a future Republican could win an 8% larger share of the minority vote in 2016, or merely increase his share of the white vote by 3%? Over at RealClearPolitics, Sean Trende basically agrees. Almost seven million fewer whites voted in 2012 than 2008 he notes, adding that demographic decline or not, “the reason this electorate looked so different from the 2008 electorate is almost entirely attributable to white voters staying home.”
From this perspective, we tend to get the traditional “not conservative enough” refrain that will no doubt come to dominate the Tea Party’s post-November worldview. Though they’d shy away from phrasing it this way, the basic gist is that if conservatives are disproportionately white, then the most effective Republican pandering will be disproportionately conservative. The famed alt-right blogger Steve Sailer has called this the “Sailer Strategy,” and its most extreme manifestation encourages a Republican Party promising a harsh crackdown on all forms of immigration — illegal or otherwise — and an unapologetic war against multiculturalism, affirmative action, welfare programs that largely favor minorities, and other stuff white voters (which is to say conservatives) will supposedly appreciate for both ideological and racial-cultural reasons.
Such an attitude will always be popular in some circles because it appeals to some deep-seeded sense of demographic justice. If the minorities can have their party, a party so self-righteous and proud and showy in its minority-ness, then why not let the whites have a party of similar tone?
The answer, of course, is because whites don’t actually want this.
On Tuesday night Romney lost literally a dozen states with white populations in the 70%-and-up range; indeed, as BuzzFeed noted, Obama would have still won five states even if all minorities were legally unable to vote. This is because unlike blacks and Hispanics, whites remain a fairly polarized group with opinions and loyalties all over the place, right and left, dogmatic and moderate. Any Republican Party that honestly seeks to be the party of white America thus has to make some peace with the very strong and real phenomenon of white liberalism, though white liberals are probably the portion of the electorate the GOP is most hostile towards. And white liberals are more than happy to return the favor —just ask a white liberal state like Vermont or Massachusetts, which Romney lost by margins of more than 20 points.
Whites, it should be remembered, largely created open-borders immigration, affirmative action, multiculturalism, and the welfare state. Increased hostility to these kinds of things seems just as likely to continue to drive down the white vote as much as raise it, particularly as more whites migrate to those urban blue islands in the center of their states where a certain style of politically-correct tolerance on these issues (to say nothing of issues involving gays, women, and secularists) is a basically a mandatory criteria of citizenship.
It’s white America’s (particularly young white America’s) growing aversion to anything that smacks of racism, bigotry, ignorance, or paranoia that probably represents the GOP’s single biggest strategic obstacle to overcome in the post-Obama era. It’s not a problem that can be fixed by doubling-down in a more fearlessly intolerant direction, nor by taking a blind leap into minority-pander world. What it does require is a fundamental repackaging of how Republicanism presents itself to the nation, a re-imagining that results in a fresh party that while still identifiably conservative, nevertheless signals a clean break with the vibe of weirdness and intolerance that is scaring off the very sorts of voters the party most needs to woo.
I’ve got my theories on how they should do this, but what are yours?