In America, Grand Old Party struggles amid progressive tilt

Amid ominous signs for conservative America, Riordan Lee asks where to now for the Republican Party?

Mitt Romney failed to win support among minorities, whose representation is increasing.
Mitt Romney failed to win support among minorities, whose representation is increasing.

With the passing of every election, familiar catch cries of “internal soul searching” and “identity crisis” are predictably hurled at the loser. Reagan’s re-election was ‘the last rites for liberalism’, but soon enough Clinton turned on his smarmy charm. Obama’s historic 2008 win was a ‘resounding dismissal of the conservative establishment’, and yet the Tea Party swept the mid terms and we all had to deal with the unfettered drivel that wretched itself out of Bachmann and co’s face holes. Certainly, making bold predictions for the political trajectory of such a volatile and diverse nation amid the hysteria of an election is a dangerous game.

However, Tuesday’s results affirmed a bourgeoning but now visible and more permanent trend – the ‘White vote’ is losing its traction as an electoral kingmaker. Since 2000, the Hispanic vote has increased more than 40 per cent and now represents 10 per cent of the electorate. Likewise, the Black population has grown 12.6 per cent and the White vote has dropped from 87 per cent in 1992 to 72 per cent in 2012. As this trend continues into the future, the Republican Party can no longer rely on White voters to carry them over the line. According to CNN exit polls, 88 per cent of Romney voters were White and Romney won 20 per cent more of the White vote nationally. However, Obama won the Hispanic vote 69 points to 29 and the Black vote 93 to 6.

He also won the White House.

The clout of minority voters was conspicuous all over the electoral map. In California and New York, Romney won the White vote by 4 and 8 per cent respectively, yet Obama won each of these Democratic strongholds by over 20 per cent (and a third of the required 270 electoral college votes). As the Hispanic population continues to spread into the South and West – historically Republican terrain, these red states are beginning to turn a lighter shade of blue. Virginia, for instance, turned for the Democrats in 2008 for the first time since 1968, and did so again in 2012. Similar fates can be seen in formerly red states Nevada and Colorado – invigorating the highly active conservative and evangelical base is no longer a guaranteed route to the White House.

The GOP has two options. Firstly, it can maintain its current course and try to repackage the traditional conservative message for minority voters. Evoking small government notions of economic liberty and market-empowering neoliberalism can certainly resonate with a growing minority presence in the middle class, as can appeals to the devout Christian pockets of these communities. This task, however, will be difficult – despite significant gains in recent years, Blacks and Hispanics are still disproportionately represented at the bottom of the economic system and, as such, social justice will remain a poignant consideration. Even more significantly though, the Republican Party’s persistent hard line stance on immigration is a deal-breaker for most Hispanic voters.

The most viable way forward for the GOP is taking a step to the left big enough to entice minority voters, but small enough to not isolate their base. Romney’s electoral chances were at their greatest after the first debate, when for the first time since the primaries, he presented himself as a genuinely moderate candidate on fiscal, social and foreign policy issues. A gentle but growing progressive tilt is apparent in the American political landscape – same-sex marriage is gaining traction (institutionalised in nine states), marijuana use was legalised in three states on Tuesday, the Tea Party has lost its legitimacy, and the elitist, laissez-faire economics that facilitated the recession have left a bitter tase in voters’ mouths. A policy platform of balanced budgets, lower tax rates across the board as well as a softening on immigration policy will repackage self-serving elitism as fiscal responsibility to wrangle back the working classes and reposition the party to appeal to the interests of an increasingly diverse electorate.

Potential 2016 candidates Jeb Bush and Chris Christie go a long way to filling this mold but perhaps this is all just nostalgic, illusory regress, longing for an Arnold Vinick – an America a la West Wing season 6/7, and indeed, if the race to the right in the Republican primaries has taught us anything, it’s that the GOP’s conservative base is reluctant to pivot to the centre. But their White, hyper-conservative voter and policy base can no longer carry their nominee to the White House, so, like they said in that movie with Diane Keaton which is pretty alright except for the fact the opening title song is by Crazy Town – something’s gotta give.

Riordan Lee is a third year Arts/Commerce student