Republicans are in trouble.
After its shellacking in the 2012 election, the Republican Party issued an “autopsy” report that foretold continued losses unless the party moderated its positions, especially on social issues. Voters, the party found, identify Republicans as being “scary”, “narrow minded”, “out of touch” “stuffy old men”. Which was a sufficient problem in 2012 but as the electorate gets younger and more racially diverse, those labels—and the retrograde policy stances that inspire them in voters—are basically a death knell for conservatives.
And yet it would appear that, all warnings aside, Republicans simply can’t help themselves. And thus, the Republican Party cannot avoid its rapid death spiral into political irrelevance.
The latest case in point comes from Albuquerque, New Mexico. There, in a purple city in a reliably purple state, voters struck down a municipal ballot seeking to ban all abortions in the city after 20 weeks. Weeks before, voters in Virginia chose an inexperienced political hack over a well-known state leader largely because the latter—Republican Ken Cuccinelli—supported a host of draconian restrictions on women’s reproductive rights. And as MSNBC’s Irin Carmon notes, both fit within a larger trend of voters rejecting restrictions on abortion, even in conservative states:
Personhood amendments have been struck down twice in Colorado and once in Mississippi, by some measures the most conservative state in the union. In 2006, voters in South Dakota rejected an absolute abortion ban. Two years later, they were asked to vote on a similar ban, this time with exceptions for rape and incest, and they rejected that too.
Once upon a time, even where a majority of voters supported choice, such elections would reliably draw out a disproportionate percentage of right-wing voters to tip the electoral scales. No longer. In Albuquerque, over 87,000 voters turned out for the special election—about one-quarter of all registered voters in the city and more than voted in the last mayor’s election. And 58 percent of the voters on the measure were women.
It’s not just abortion. This past November, voters in Maine and Maryland approved marriage equality and voters in Minnesota rejected a measure that would have banned same-sex marriage. More troubling for Republicans is how those votes broke down. In Maryland, seven out of 10 voters under the age of 29 voted to legalize gay marriage. Almost six in 10 between the ages of 30 and 44 also supported the measure. The widest margin of opposition? From voters over 65, nearly two-thirds of whom opposed the marriage equality measure. One might call those voters “stuffy old men.”
And then there’s immigration. In addition to the fact that polls show a strong majority of *all* Americans support immigration reform, support is particularly high among Latinos—the fastest growing segment of the American population and, as seen in the 2012 election, an equally quickly growing powerhouse in American politics. For the first time ever, in the 2012 election, Latinos comprised 10 percent of voters and supported President Obama at such wide margins that this demographic shift is given credit for the President’s re-election. Republicans were so aware of this reality that, in the days and weeks after the 2012 election, personalities like Sean Hannity started proclaiming their support for comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship and Senator Marco Rubio’s star quickly rose as the new standard bearer for his party.
In his “autopsy”, Republican Party chair Reince Priebus warned, “It doesn’t matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think that we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies."
But as I said before, it’s like they can’t help themselves. Moderate, bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform legislation has passed the Senate but Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner refuses to bring the measure up for a vote. And even Rubio has abandoned support for the measure which he personally helped craft. Of course, the reality is that while the Tea Party fringe of the Republican Party is wildly out of step with the majority of Americans, including the majority of Americans (Latino and otherwise) who vote in national elections, that extremist fringe maintains a disproportionate stranglehold in Republican primaries. Anyone like Boehner trying to hold his flailing party together or anyone like Rubio who aspires to run for president on the GOP ticket has to genuflect to those marginal extremists.
But short-term desperate measures or miracles aside, Republicans are in deep doo-doo over the long run. Because the electorate will keep getting younger and darker and more progressive and the current stock and trade of Republican policies will be pushed even further out of the mainstream of political opinion and voter favor. Sure, Republicans can continue to hold onto the House thanks to gerrymandering as well as arm-flapping about Obamacare. But the ultimate trajectory is clear and all-but inevitable—over the next two to three decades, if Republicans continue their wholesale attack on immigrant rights, marriage equality and women’s reproductive freedom, the party will be nothing more than a vestigial relic each time elections roll around.