Mitt Romney received 59 percent of the white vote, and whites comprised 72 percent of all voters. This in and of itself was a huge advantage, and if the Republicans had been at all competitive with the minority vote, should have guaranteed his victory, even given the advantage President Obama had with women voters. But it didn’t. The two most influential conservative pundits correctly pointed out what had happened, but it’s glaringly obvious that neither understood exactly why it had happened.
First, Rush Limbaugh:
I went to bed thinking last night that we are outnumbered. I went to bed last night thinking [about] all this discussion we’d had about this election being the election that will tell us whether or not we’ve lost the country. I went to bed last night thinking we’ve lost the country. I don’t know how else you look at this. The first wave of exit polls came in at 5 o’clock. I looked at it. I read the first two pages and I said to myself, “this is utter BS” and I forwarded the exit poll data that I had to three or four people and my message to each of them: “this is utter BS and if it isn’t then we’ve lost the country”
Rush Limbaugh was in utter denial, wallowing in the first stage of GOP grief as described in this rather brilliant article in The Daily Beast. But it was Bill O’Reilly who first began to put together what had happened:
“The white establishment is now the minority, and the voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You are going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama. Overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama’s way. People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things?”
“The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore.”
But neither of them really understands where the real disconnect between the GOP and America’s minorities lay. Again, Rush Limbaugh:
“Let me take you back to the Republican convention. We had Susan Martinez, female Hispanic governor of New Mexico. We had Condoleeza Rice, African American, former secretary of state. Both of those people, eminently qualified, terrifically achieved; they have reached the pinnacles of their profession.
We had Marco Rubio. We had a parade of minorities who have become successful Americans, and they all had a common story: hard work. Their parents sacrificed for them…. They worked hard…their stories evoked pride.”
This is the first point: Limbaugh, and so many other Republicans, saw a “parade of minorities.” The rest of us saw it for what it was: Republican tokenism. Is this really so different from Romney’s disastrous “binders full of women“? There’s a big difference between tokenism and true acceptance, and that difference was glaringly obvious in the generally lily-white nature of every Republican political rally as opposed to the racial and cultural spread that characterized Democratic rallies.
Limbaugh and O’Reilly unwittingly demonstrated this difference. From Limbaugh:
Conservatism, in my humble opinion, did not lose last night. It’s just very difficult to beat Santa Claus. It is practically impossible to beat Santa Claus. People are not going to vote against Santa Claus, especially if the alternative is being your own Santa Claus…Romney’s recipe was the old standby: American route to success, hard work. That gets sneered at. I’m sorry. In a country of children where the option is Santa Claus or work, what wins?
And look again at what O’Reilly said from the reference above:
You are going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama. Overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama’s way. People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things?
So the two most influential conservative pundits, whose words have made and broken major Republican politicians, both claim that minorities (and women, according to O’Reilly) voted for President Obama because they, the minority voters, feel that they are entitled to the gifts that the federal Santa will bring. There lay the difference, the disconnect between the Republican elite and the ever-browner American people, the very reason for the lily-white nature of Republican political rallies. And that’s what led to the disaster that shocked the Republican party on November 6th.
This Republican perception that minorities and women are significantly more likely to demand entitlements isn’t a new thing. Remember Reagan’s “Welfare queen” (that didn’t exist) and Bush 41′s infamous Willie Horton ad? In the eyes of the minorities, Rick Santorum’s one-syllable-short declaration that Obama was “a government n***er” was simply more of the same. Seriously, can anyone really expect the minorities to reliably support the Republican party when a standard-bearer of the most conservative wing of the Republican base is so transparently racist? Is it really any wonder that the minorities are now hesitant at best to join the party of Lincoln and Reagan? Bear in mind, now, that all this isn’t even addressing the anti-abortion efforts made by almost every Republican-controlled legislature in America, and how this affected the attitudes of the female half of the voting public towards Republicans in general.
The Republican party needs to become a big-tent party once more, and the first step to doing so is to reject Ronald Reagan’s particular doctrine that “Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican”. Why? Because this single policy has taught two generations of Republican politicians to not hold each other accountable for their words and actions. Sure, they might criticize each other here or there, but unless an errant Republican has committed a major felony or (horror of horrors) had gay sex! The worst criticism any Republican gets from his or her GOP colleagues is, “You aren’t conservative enough!” Reagan’s “don’t speak ill of each other” policy has got to go. Put more simply, while none of us likes the idea of political correctness, it plays a crucial role in the maturation of a nation by (among other things) enabling the rejection of prejudice.
The second step is to reject the path down which they were led by the father of the modern conservative movement, William F. Buckley, who supported a fusion of conservative ideologies. But by doing so, they ceded much of the leadership of the Republican party to the religious right. The Republicans would do well to remember once more the admonitions of Barry Goldwater:
“I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?
And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.”"
“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”
Goldwater’s words were eerily prescient and illustrate perfectly what led to today’s state of the Republican party. I disagree with Republican dogma on so many levels, but their social conservatism is especially repugnant. If they are able to take the two steps I described above, if they can learn that public criticism of each other is not just healthy, but essential, and if they can suck out the poison of the religious right, then they should be able to return to being a big-tent party; and I hope they do, even though I know it would mean a more politically-powerful Republican party that is hidebound to the Austrian school of austerity politics. I hope the GOP is able to get back on their feet not because I want them in charge, certainly not, but because even when the Democrats are in charge, I want (and America needs) a loyal opposition that is powerful enough to force my fellow Democrats to negotiate, to bargain, to meet halfway, and to compromise. Without a powerful opposition party, corruption sooner or later infests whole the party in power, so as much as I disagree with the Republican party, we Democrats need them, and all America needs them as the loyal opposition party, not a pushover party to be ignored, but one with bite.
One wonders, though, if the situation were reversed, how many Republicans out there would say the same of the Democratic party? But there it is: America needs the Republican party, but they need to get their house in order. They need to marginalize their extremists, expel religious zealots from their deep councils, and hold each other publicly accountable to the point of political correctness. I hope they can muster the courage and determination to do so.