Ethics & Public Policy Center

The GOP’s Political Reconstruction Project

Published in Commentary Magazine on April 21, 2014



Like most political analysts, I’m of the view that the GOP will do well, and maybe very well, in the 2014 mid-term elections. (Demographics usually favor Republicans in such elections, when voters tend to be older and whiter.) I believe, too, that Hillary Clinton has shown herself to be an average political talent who carries a fair amount of baggage. Add to that the fact that the country will presumably be tired of Mr. Obama and his party and looking for a change in course.

Yet despite all this, I agree with Bill Kristol. At this moment, he wrote, “Republicans seem likely to win in 2014 and to lose in 2016.”

Having laid out the basis for my views before, I decided to amass additional data to underscore them. In this instance, the data is based on a memorandum by Doug Sosnik, a Democratic political strategist who was a close adviser to Bill Clinton. The memo was recently posted at Politico Magazine. Mr. Sosnik is a partisan, but the data he relies on for his analysis strikes me as sound – and for Republicans, alarming. The information below is taken in large part, but not exclusively, from the Sosnik article.

The Blue Wall

In each of the past six presidential elections, Democrats have carried 18 states and the District of Columbia—which currently total 242 electoral votes—as base states, leaving them only 28 votes short of the 270 necessary to win the White House. Ron Brownstein of National Journal notes, “The blue wall encompasses the 11 states from Maryland to Maine (except New Hampshire); the three West Coast states; and Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Hawaii (plus the District of Columbia).” Brownstein points out that Democrats have won another 15 electoral votes (in Iowa, New Hampshire, and New Mexico) in five of the last six elections.

Three of these base states—California, New York, and Illinois—alone total 104 electoral votes. Even when Republicans have won, their ceiling of electoral votes has been relatively low, leaving them a very small margin for error. Since 1988, no Republican candidate has managed to secure 300 electoral votes in a single election.

Women and the GOP

Women now constitute 53 percent of all voters. In the last two presidential elections, women supported Barack Obama over the Republican nominee by double digits. While the president lost by 10 percentage points among independents in Ohio, for example, he won by 12 points among women in the state—and carried Ohio.

The Youth Vote and the GOP

In 2012, Obama won the youth vote by 23 points—60 percent to 37 percent. In 1992, Democrats won the youth vote by 9 points; in 1996, by 19 points; in 2000, by two points; in 2004, by 13 points; and in 2008 by 34 points.

Right now, young voters constitute 25.5 percent of the eligible electorate, a figure that will rise to 36.5 percent by 2020. And a recent Pew report found that only 17 percent of millennials currently identify themselves as Republicans.

Minorities and the GOP

In 2012, 88 percent of Mitt Romney’s support came from white voters. Yet over the past quarter century, as the non-white share of the population has expanded, the white share of the vote for president has steadily declined, falling from 87 percent in 1992 to 72 percent in 2012.

Mitt Romney lost the non-white vote to Barack Obama by 63 points.

Asian-Americans voted for Obama over Romney 73 percent to 26 percent after backing him against John McCain 62 to 35. President Obama also won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012. The Pew Hispanic Center projects that by 2030, 40 million Hispanics will be eligible to vote—up from 27 million today. Since George W. Bush’s 2004 election, Hispanic voters have abandoned the Republican Party in droves (Bush won 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004). Indeed, since the 2004 election, Republicans have steadily lost ground among women voters, Hispanics, African Americans, Asians, and youth.

Public Perceptions of the GOP

A March ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 68 percent of respondents believe that the Republican Party is out of touch with the concerns of most people today. Only 28 percent say it’s in touch with the concerns of most Americans.

I highlight these matters not because they are the only way to interpret the political landscape these days. Nor do I believe a GOP presidential victory in 2016 is anything like out of the question. I call attention to these data instead to point out to Republicans their substantial intellectual and outreach deficit, even while President Obama is down in the polls and even if they do well in November.

It’s an undeniable empirical truth that the GOP coalition is shrinking, and it’s shrinking in the aftermath of two fairly decisive defeats, with the latter coming against a president whose policies were judged by many Americans to have been failures. Which means the Republican task isn’t simply to nominate a candidate who can fire up the base; it is to find principled conservative leaders who can win over voters who are not now voting for the GOP at the presidential level. This requires putting forward a governing vision and agenda that is reform-minded and modernizing, that speaks to the purposes of government and not just its size, that aligns itself with the challenges of the 21st century, and that persuades Americans who are not traditional Republicans.

The GOP, in other words, is engaged in a fairly serious political reconstruction project. Democrats did this with Bill Clinton and the British Labour Party did this with Tony Blair. The burning political question facing Republicans is whether they will make the changes necessary to appeal to an America very different than the one that existed a generation ago.

They’ll go some distance toward answering that question over the course of the next two years.

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