Politics

03.18.13

The GOP’s Inept Autopsy

The Republican National Committee’s attempt at self-criticism doesn’t genuinely tackle any of the party’s biggest problems, says Michael Tomasky.

I’m going to shock you, perhaps, by saying that I don’t think the Republican National Committee’s “Growth and Opportunity Project” document is a complete joke. Three or four decent ideas have been somehow smuggled into its 100 pages, and the party would be well advised to follow them. But what’s more interesting to me are the things that are not in there. The difficult topics are nearly all avoided. Now it could be that the GOP’s great minds are taking up these questions behind closed doors, and if so bully for them. But I somehow doubt it because to take these tougher questions on is to take on the party’s most rabid base, and who’s going to do that? The process of Republican change is going be what we might call a two-thirds Hobbes: nasty, brutish, and long.

But first let me be a sport and tip my cap to the good ideas. I think fewer primary-season debates is a grand idea, chiefly because that means fewer that I’ll have to watch. By about the 15th one last time, I was trying to relax by shoving bamboo shoots under my fingernails.

Of course, the document doesn’t mention the real reason for this suggestion. What the RNC obviously wants to do here is limit middle America’s exposure to the party’s koo-koo-for-cocoa-puffs base. Remember the cheering for the death penalty, the booing of the gay soldier, the catcalls about immigrants? The party and its people were huge losers from all those debates and the attendant publicity. The less America sees of those people, the RNC figures, the better.

It’s also not pointless to want to hire more women and people of color to send out into the field to recruit possible voters and spread the party’s message. Why this is occurring to them only in 2013 is a question. This occurred to Democrats in 1972. Obviously Republicans have been rather happy to be the white party up until now.

So those are some good things. But now let’s think about what’s not in this document. The Republicans have three big problems. The first is that, as they will soon see, they can’t paper over their problems with nonwhite voters with the hiring of a few organizers and other gestures. Embracing immigration won’t solve their problems with Hispanics.

In a few months, the GOP-appointed Supreme Court conservative majority is going to overturn Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Fairly soon after that, the same Court majority is going to consider, and probably do away with, the last laws that keep affirmative action on the books. In addition—this isn’t about pigmentation, but about diversity and inclusion nevertheless—that same quintet may well rule against a federal right to marriage for same-sexers.

These decisions will be handed down by the Court’s Republicans or conservatives. And what will the GOP do in response? Can you imagine Reince Priebus then denouncing Antonin Scalia and John Roberts for being out of touch with America? Can you imagine Republicans in Congress rushing in and working with Democrats to write a new Section 5? Didn’t think so. The vast majority of Republicans will hail these decisions. And people of color, and gay people, will notice. (Incidentally, gays are not mentioned at all in the report as a group to whom the GOP should attempt some outreach; it’s good at least to have that clarity.)

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At CPAC 2013, Mitt Romney said the GOP had to learn from his mistakes to “take back the nation.”

Back in the 1980s, the voters kept the Democrats out of power until they were persuaded that the party really had changed.

Problem number two has to do with economics. Republicans seem not to have wrapped their heads around this, but a big reason they lost the last election was their extreme economic policies. It was the 47 percent business, but it wasn’t only that. Voters may not know many details, but they got the message that Republicans want more than anything else to make sure that rich people are paying less in taxes. That remains the GOP message. Well, actually, now that I think about it, the No. 1 message of this new Ryan budget may actually be hatred of poor people. In either case, it ain’t good.

To some extent, the party will be helped in 2016 by not nominating a filthy rich white man who behaves in that presumptuous rich-white-man way. But only to some extent. Someone from a humbler background selling essentially those same voodoo economics will do only marginally better. And if they think they can pull new voters without taking a very long and very frank look at their economic platform, they are in la-la land.

And finally, the biggest problem of all is the fury of the GOP’s white base. Nowhere does this report, even in the most euphemistic terms possible, discuss the rage problem. But it is key. Republicans in Congress are constantly playing to that rage, feeding it back to the voters. They have built themselves congressional districts where the only thing they have to worry about and respond to is that rage. Structurally, it’s hard to see how this changes. And emotionally, as long as Barack Obama is president, likely to be followed by a Clinton, are Republicans really going to start being civil?

Back in the 1980s, the voters kept the Democrats out of power until they were persuaded that the party really had changed. I’m not saying I endorse all Democratic Leadership Council ideas, but I am saying that it took an effort that big, a clear jettisoning of some longtime shibboleths, for voters to accept that the Democrats really had changed. The Republicans need that. This document still tries to pretend that the jettisoning isn’t needed. Wake me when they embrace affirmative action.