Since the election, we’ve been treated to the conventional wisdom that the Republican Party, fresh from its third consecutive presidential drubbing, will modify, moderate and modernize itself in order to bring women and minority voters (read Hispanics) into the fold.
But what if the reality is that the party has no intention of changing, or more to the point, will find it really hard to do so?
The uncomfortable truth for Republicans is that, as ignominious former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once notoriously stated, you go to war with the army you have. And who is in the GOP’s army?
Older, white (Southern) men form the bulk of the party base, and Mitt Romney’s strongest constituency. Much of that base has been steeped in the rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck for a very long time. They’re suspicious of the kind of multiculturalism the pointy heads in Washington are calling on the GOP to engage in, and they’re very, very conservative.
In fact, the great irony of the Republican Party is that the base has long been much more conservative than its presidential nominees, who have had to contort themselves into increasingly right wing shapes in order to fit in.
Sure, we’ve seen Rupert Murdoch’s lead canary, Sean Hannity, float the idea of reversing course on immigration reform. But what makes anyone think Dittoheads and tea partiers are going to go quietly along, just so the party hacks can acquire and hang on to Washington power? Opposition to “amnesty,” as most of the GOP base views even ideas like the DREAM Act, is part and parcel of being a Republican. It’s far more likely that Hannity gets back on the reservation, than that the party base follows him back from the demographic abyss.
Besides, Republicans have a difficult case to make to Latinos, who in the decades that the right has been dissing them, have grown closer to Democrats in their views on subjects other than immigration. The latest polling by Pew Research and by Latino Decisions confirms that Hispanics of all ages, but particularly younger Latinos and Hispanic women, are more liberal than the general population on abortion, more likely to buck their church (largely Catholic) on the subject of birth control, and more supportive of a robust role for government. Can substantial numbers of them be wooed with talk of faith and small business?
Well, African-Americans are highly religious too, and those arguments have been tried on them, successfully in some cases, and yet fewer than one in 10 African-Americans are Republican.
Republicans, meanwhile, have shown themselves unwilling to embrace minorities without those minorities first running the ideological gauntlet. Thus, Marco Rubio can be the “Latino Ronald Reagan,” but can’t support Reaganite amnesty for undocumented immigrants. Nor can he publicly affirm that the earth is more than 6,000 years old. (He’s not a scientist, man, as he told GQ Magazine.) Allen West is moving out of his congressional office and taking his musket back to the Florida bunker. And Bobby Jindal can enjoin the GOP against being the “stupid party,” but he still mandated the teaching of what amounts to creationism — rather than simply science — in Louisiana public schools.
Which brings us to Evangelicals . . .
Sure, the party wishes it could banish the Todd Akins and Richard Mourdocks of the world into Christine O’Donnell’s witches’ cauldron for all time (or at least get them to not talk). But the fact is, millions of evangelical voters fervently and sincerely believe what Akin and Mourdock believe, when it comes to abortion.
The party just concluded an election in which its official platform called for criminalizing abortion, even in cases of rape or incest, and without exceptions even to save the life of the mother. That’s not some fringe view, it’s the mainline Republican view, as is a fundamental opposition to gay marriage.
If the political apparatchiks of the GOP choose to throw those voters over the side in order to attract younger, more secular voters, they’re going to need a lot of the unchurched. And it will be even harder to win elections without the enthusiastic support of Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council crowd, who have placed their Christianity in the service of the party, but who may become less gung-ho soldiers if they are ignored.
That’s not to say the GOP cannot change. But the real conventional wisdom should be that change won’t come easy.