David Frum

02.14.13

Wake Up and Smell Reality, Republicans

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images ()

There's a lot to digest in Robert Draper's latest New York Times Magazine piece on young Republicans attempting to return their party to relevance. Here are a few of the most depressing passages. First, on the idea that Marco Rubio can reverse the GOP's woes with Hispanic voters:

Pouncing, [David Plouffe] replied: “Let me tell you something. The Hispanic voters in Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico don’t give a damn about Marco Rubio, the Tea Party Cuban-American from Florida. You know what? We won the Cuban vote! And it’s because younger Cubans are behaving differently than their parents. It’s probably my favorite stat of the whole campaign. So this notion that Marco Rubio is going to heal their problems — it’s not even sophomoric; it’s juvenile! And by the way: the bigger problem they’ve got with Latinos isn’t immigration. It’s their economic policies and health care. The group that supported the president’s health care bill the most? Latinos.”

The next from Ken Mehlman, the campaign manager for George W. Bush's successful reelection effort in 2004:

Today’s typical voter, he went on to say, could be that same white couple in Dayton. “But here’s the difference,” he said. ‘They worry about economic mobility — can their kids get ahead or even keep up. Their next-door neighbors are Latino whose mom gets concerned when she hears talk about self-deportation or no driver’s licenses. And that couple has a gay niece and an African-American brother-in-law. And too many folks like the couple in Dayton today wonder if some of the G.O.P. understands their lives anymore.”

Finally, another from Mehlman, this in relation to the now-tiresome "Ronald Reagan couldn't win a primary in today's GOP:"

I asked him whether, as even some Republicans have suggested, Ronald Reagan would have trouble building a winning coalition today. “I think he could win, partly because Reagan wouldn’t be the Reagan he was in 1980,” Mehlman replied. “Reagan had an unbelievable intuitive understanding of the electorate, because he’d spent his life as the president of a large union, as an actor who understands his audience, as the governor of the largest state, as a corporate spokesman who traveled — Reagan spent his life listening to people and learning from them and adapting to their concerns. That’s why there were Reagan Democrats — ethnics, working-class voters, Southern voters. So I think a modern Reagan would understand the demography and where the new voters are and would’ve applied his principles accordingly.”

Bingo, right? Why does our discussion pretend a talented politician wouldn't recognize change? 

The consistent theme of this piece is that young, white, conservative voters are becoming more libertarian, while other young voters embrace a more active role from government in areas such as education, the social safety net, and healthcare.

And therein lies the problem for the GOP. The conservative meme of the 2012 cycle was that Republicans would lose if they became "Democrat-lite" by offering a watered version of the welfare state. That is a dynamite proposition in a primary. It's a fool's errand when the general electorate is trending in favor of more government.

I'm working on a post about the GOP and its ties to John Calhoun. Like David, I think advocates of this idea are trying too hard, but there's one clear message to understand. The "Calhoun Option" is to do whatever possible to stop progress, right here, right now. It's a last ditch effort that can't be reversed, and it is madness.