For the past several weeks before the election when it was already clear that Obama was going to win, I was looking for it and could not find it. During the election night coverage and the days immediately after, on TV, radio, newspapers and blogs I was looking for it and could not find it. Only in the last two days I found two isolated examples of people who “get it” – here and here. What?
The failure of imagination coupled with failure of doing basic math has been missing all along. Everyone is wondering how will the GOP make a come-back, what they need to do to come back, never questioning the notion that such a thing is inevitable. Why do people think that a two-party system in which the two parties are Democrats and Republicans alternating in power, is some God-given situation? It’s not written in the Constitution. Nobody remembers the Whigs, the Know-Nothings and other parties that used to be powerful in the history of USA and vanished once they exhausted all the possible ideas they could have? Nobody remembers the Ross Perot era Reformists, much more recently, and how many votes they got in 1992?
I think the GOP is at the point when it has exhausted itself. Here’s why:
History and demographics are against them.
The younger generations are much more socially liberal – they are far less racist, sexist and homophobic than their elders. They will not lose those feelings as they grow older. In a decade or so, appeal to base instincts of cowards will not be an effective electoral strategy.
This is how the electoral map will look like when the current youngsters get older.
In a couple of decades, more than 50% of Americans will be non-White in various shades and hues. Racism, as a campaign strategy, is dead.
The “none” is the fastest growing response to the question of religious affiliation on censuses. Fewer and fewer people will be fervently anti-gay and anti-choice. Religious fundamentalism will gradually lose power as a campaign issue.
Everyone who has talked to the youngsters lately knows that they are much less partisan than we are (sometimes to our chagrin – I am vociferously partisan myself) and do not fall as easily to negativity and demonizing others as “the Enemy” as the older generations. Hate is not going to win any elections any time soon.
All the kids who, this year, worked their asses off for Obama – not just voting, but knocking on doors, phone-banking, etc. – are lifelong Democrats now. An entire generation is lost to the GOP.
Yee-haw is not a foreign policy. Vicious aggression has no appeal to the generation that has grown in a global village, texting their friends across the globe late at night. They have traveled much more than their parents and are not afraid of foreigners and will not want to go to war with some far-away country just because their people are dark-skinned or whatever.
What can Republicans do?
The thoughtful, decent Republicans have left the party. They may not have changed their party registrations, but it’s too late to go back. The GOP has been taken over by the Palin-loving crowd and those guys will not be allowed back.
The Republican coalition is breaking into its three main components.
The neocons may not care about social issues, but they have been proven wrong on foreign policy. The long-standing advantage of the Republicans in regards to the way voters see them as better on national security has melted – in this election, it was the Democrats that people trusted more.
The economic conservatives may also not care about social issues, and some of them may even be OK on foreign policy, but they have been proven wrong on economics. Their libertarian, free-market-leading-to-monopolies worship resulted in the economic meltdown. I don’t understand why people were surprised by the current economic crisis. I am not an economist so I could not know the exact details how it would break down, nor could I predict exactly when it would happen, but I knew that an economy based on erroneous assumptions MUST break down at some point.
The social conservatives are just wrong on everything.
So, what are the scenarios?
One: The social conservatives retain the grip on the party, making the platform even more based on bigotry and religious fundamentalism. Other self-identifying conservatives leave (or do not return to) the party. The GOP becomes a regional party of the Appalachia until they dwindle into non-existence. At this moment, this looks like the most likely scenario.
Two: Economic conservatives come back and kick the social conservatives to the curb. They have been proven wrong on economics, so they are not going to be so attractive to the voters any more. And without the fundies, they do not have the electoral numbers needed for winning any more national elections.
Three: the three factions get together and make peace with each other in order to retain the numbers at around 50% of the electorate. What platform should they adopt? The fundies have an absolutist mindset – my way or the highway – so they will push for a further move to the Right. Guess how that will play among the moderates and independents? Good-bye, White House. But let’s say that fundies grudgingly agree to a more moderate platform. How far left can the GOP go? Not much, really. There is no space to move – the Democrats are smack in the Center, and everything to the right of it is discredited. If they stay a little to the right, people will not like some parts of their platform, so they will lose to the Dems every time. If they try to go smack to the Center, they will have the exactly same platform as the Dems – in that case, people will go with the Real McCoy, not the newfangled impostors who are not to be trusted to be as honest about those beliefs as the Dems are.
So, the only hope for the GOP is if the unified party moves to the Center AND Dems move further to the Left to give them space.
But the Dems do not have the instinct to move further left from Center. And I hope they are not crazy to try and thus leave the open space for the GOP to move in. Furthermore, observing the death-throes of the Republican Party, other parties will quickly move in to fill the vacuum. Libertarian Party (which did quite well in places like North Carolina and will thus be on the ballot next time) will adopt a socially liberal and economically conservative stance, challenging the Dems from the Right. The Greens will start swelling in their ranks (many of their natural constituents who backed the Dems in order to kick out the crazies will find the Dems too centrist for their taste, and will now feel safe to go back ‘home’) and will challenge the Dems from the Left, thus stabilizing the Dems smack in the Center, not leaving any air for the GOP to breathe in. Perhaps the GOP will split into two parties, each insufficiently attractive or numerous to win a nation-wide office.
I think that the two-party system in which the two major players are the Democrats and the Republicans is over. There will be a lot of jockeying for position all across the political spectrum and a lot of struggle about potential reform of the electoral rules (which Democrats will resist and may conscript the remaining rump GOP to help in retaining the status quo). If everything goes well, perhaps we will end up with a true multi-party system in which there will be 4-5 parties of roughly equal strength, none capable of winning and ruling completely alone.
But one thing is certain, there will be no more alternate victories between Dems and Repubs – that world is now over.