Politics

03.18.14

The GOP Failed to Reform...and It Doesn't Matter

Republicans have failed to diversify their party in the year since proclaiming the urgency of a bigger tent. Here's why it doesn't matter.

As Kristen Solis Anderson writes here at The Daily Beast, the GOP has made mixed progress on the to-do list it gave itself with last year’s “Growth and Opportunity” report, which aimed to revamp the party for a new generation. Republicans, she notes, have moved forward on modernizing their campaign infrastructure, which they credit for their victory in last week’s Florida special election.

But the core political problem with the Republican Party isn’t technology—it’s diversity. The 2012 election revealed the extent to which the GOP was the party of white voters—nearly 80 percent of nonwhites voted for Barack Obama in the presidential race, and of Republican self-identifiers, nearly 90 percent are “non-Hispanic whites.” In response, GOP leaders called for a new effort to diversify the party, hiring outreach new outreach coordinators for black, Latino, and Asian American communities, and presenting their policies as a natural fit for the concerns of minorities.

What they didn’t do, however, is change their substance; 2013 closed without a single concession from Republicans. If they were going to make an effort Latinos or African Americans, it would be without immigration reform or support for the goals of Obamacare. Which is to say, they weren’t going to make an effort, or at least, not much of one. Hence, the continued calls for inclusivity from high-profile Republican figures.

Setting aside the question of the party’s long-term future, I think it’s safe to say that this—the party’s resistance to substantive minority outreach— won’t matter at all for 2014 or 2016. If the Republican Party wants to continue its strategy of ignoring the concerns of nonwhite voters, it can, without fear of electoral fallout.

Here’s why. First, as Larry Sabato explains for POLITICO Magazine, opposition parties have a relatively easy time during off-year elections, especially during the sixth year of a presidency. Even in a good economy, it’s hard for a long-time incumbent president to retain or win seats in the legislature. When you combine that with the GOP’s demographic advantage in midterms—the voters most likely to turn out, older and wealthier whites, are also the most likely to vote for republicans—you have a situation where it doesn’t matter if, for instance, Latino voters feel alienated from Republican candidates. Sure, their approval might matter in some broad sense, but—at the moment—their votes don’t.

As for 2016? The landscape of a presidential election is set, for the most part, by two things: The state of the economy and the job approval of the president (which, in turn, are connected to each other). It’s not hard to imagine a near-future where the Republican nominee for president (We’ll call him “Scott Walker”) is running against an unpopular Barack Obama and a sluggish economy. In that world, there’s a good chance that Republicans capture the White House, regardless of the Democratic nominee. Indeed, there’s a good chance they capture the White House and improve their margins with minority voters. And if this happens, it will have less to do with any outreach (or lack thereof) and everything to do with the fact that voters respond strongly to outside conditions, and certain conditions generate certain reactions. In a bad economy, most people vote against the incumbent, even if—in better times—they would have stuck with him or his party.

Now, again, it’s not clear how this plays out in the long-term. In the case of Latinos in particular, there’s a chance that Republicans doom themselves with disdain and disinterest, i.e., Latinos begin to understand the GOP has hostile to their interests, full stop, and act accordingly. There’s also a chance that assimilation and intermarriage creates an opening for Republicans to make inroads with their conservative ideology. And finally, there’s a chance that Republicans change, as generational replacement takes hold and white GOP voters proclaim different interests and concerns.

The main point, however, is that—for today’s Republicans—there’s no need for change. The “Growth and Opportunity Project” may have been a fruitful exercise, but it wasn’t necessary. Thanks to the basic dynamics of American politics, the GOP—as white and geriatric as it is—sits well-positioned for success.