The GOP’s Huge, Growing Modernity Gap

Republicans’ problem with young voters isn’t about stray stupid comments, writes Lloyd Green, but its retrograde approach to technology, culture and modernity.

06.09.13 8:45 AM ET

The modernity gap that haunted the Republican Party on Election Day 2012 has since worsened. Demographics, attitudes and technology continue to make the Republicans look like out-of-touch relics of a bygone era. A record-high 30 percent of Americans now identify as socially liberal, Democratic-leaning single mothers are a growing portion of the electorate, and more Americans than not have an unfavorable view of the GOP, notwithstanding the recent spate of negative news surrounding the administration. 

To top it off, a report issued this week by the College Republican National Committee, Grand Old Party for a Brand New Generation, indicted the Republicans for being “closed-minded, racist, rigid, old-fashioned;” for singularly attacking government; for hostility toward gay marriage, and for acting like the “stupid party.” But too many in the GOP seem to embrace that label.

Limiting the evidence to just the past two weeks, Exhibit No. 1: Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert, a GOP member of House Judiciary Committee, told a witness — who had ended her pregnancy after having been advised that the fetus was brain dead, that she should have carried the “child” to term. 

Exhibit No. 2: Erik Erickson, the founder of RedState, mansplained to Fox News’ incredulous Megyn Kelly this week that “when you look at biology, look at the natural world, the roles of a male and a female in society, and other animals, the male typically is the dominant role.” 

Exhibit No. 3: Phil Bryant, Mississippi’s first-term governor, blamed working mothers for American illiteracy

Exhibit No. 4, Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss attributed rape in the armed forces to hormones.”

The real problem, though, is not stray and scatterred comments. Rather it is that such comments speak to the party's discomfort with modernity.

(1998 is the last time Silicon Valley sent a Republican to Congress, and 1988 was the last time it voted Republican for president.)

One only needs to look at the technology gap between the Obama and Romney campaigns to see where things stand. On Election Day, Team Romney deployed ORCA, a failed, bloated and beached technology. By contrast, the Obama data-mining operation was revolutionary.

As Sasha Issenberg described it, traditionally gauging public opinion “revolved around quarantining small samples that could be treated as representative of the whole.” Obama 2012, instead, created a pointillist portrait in which “the electorate could be seen as a collection of individual citizens who could each be measured and assessed on their own terms.” A mobile app used by the Obama campaign “allowed a canvasser to download and return walk sheets without ever entering a campaign office.” 

One reason that the Obama campaign got it right was because of the campaign’s relationship with the world of high-technology. The late Steve Jobs of Apple and Eric Schmidt of Google, among others, tutored Jim Messina, the 2012 Obama Campaign Manager and former Deputy White House Chief of Staff on data, messaging and management. With Obama reelected, the relationship between Schmidt and the Obama analytics team has now morphed into a business venture called Civis Analytics, which stands ready to crunch data and advise businesses and not-for-profits alike. 

The GOP has shown little response to these developments. Liberty Works, a Karl Rove-affiliated company, recently won a contract with the Republican National Committee to create an “i-phone like” and “open-source voter data platform” Got that? Its nascent performance, however, has been wanting.

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According to Politico, “Liberty Works has gotten off to a shaky start.” Top techies complain of its narrow vision and “say the company’s outreach is underwhelming — as are its salary offers.” Apple, Google and DreamWorks it isn’t. The view from Dallas is not the same as the view from San Jose. Texas may be a testing ground, but it is in Silicon Valley that ideas germinate and incubate. But, in a hopeful sign, the RNC just retained Facebook and Google alumnus Andy Barkett, an actual engineer, as its Chief Technology Officer

Regardless, the symbiosis between the Democratic Party and Silicon Valley is, on a real level, disquieting. It reinforces the censoriousness and paternalism present among Obama and his allies. The NSA's data grab, Eric Holder’s war on the press and the IRS’s attack on the Right are not aberrations, as the Obamans have made clear.

For example, Rayid Ghani, the Obama campaign’s Chief Data Scientist, told me that academics and the media should “self-regulate” what they write and say about campaign data. Likewise, in their new book, The New Digital Age, Schmidt and his co-author, Jared Cohen, the director of Google Ideas, announce that “most of all, this is a book about the importance of a guiding human hand in the new digital age.” The 32-year-old Cohen previously served on the State Department Policy Planning Staffs of both Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton.  Politics is part of Cohen’s DNA, and so is technology.

And that is the GOP’s problem. Forget about projecting “cool,” Republicans can start by just being modern.

Since 1992 the GOP has lost the 18-29 vote in each presidential election. As the adage goes, “although people’s fundamental political views do not change much as they age, their propensity to vote does.”  In other words, the GOP’s future could grow ever bleaker as today’s seniors and boomers are supplanted at the ballot box by Generations X, Y and Z.

If Gohmert, Bryant, and Erickson have their way, the Republican’s modernity deficit will further congeal and fester, with the GOP relegated, at best, to a congressional party, one that specializes in oversight hearings and impeachment trials but not one actually tasked by America to govern.