The GOP must move to the center to survive? -- good luck with that


The rise of the Tea Party and the primary success of extremists like Kentucky's Rand Paul, Utah's Mike Lee and Nevada's Sharron Angle (and, hoo boy, check out the latest story about her) is getting a lot of hype, but here's an important fact about the so-called New Right that's getting overlooked:

The New Right may be ascendant -- but it's also dying.

Look, it was economist John Maynard Keynes who said famously that "in the long run, we are all dead" -- he was referring to people but he just as well could have been talking about the Tea Party and friends. Look at American demographics and then look again at the people backlashing against the Obama presidency: They are disproportionately over the age of 50 -- not a good sign for long-term survival (sigh) -- but they also are massively underrepresented among the groups that are growing in U.S. society -- Hispanics in particular but other racial and ethnic minorities and also people with a college degree, regardless of race.

That said, the New Right is drawing its lifeblood from a huge bump in the U.S. population -- the post-war Baby Boom and the subsequent "Generation Jones" that comprise roughly one of three Americans...for now, anyway. They are wielding enormous clout on issues from climate change to immigration reform; even though the evidence still suggests that the 2008 election was a tipping point toward this new coalition that elected Barack Obama, conservatives are poised to make major takebacks in Congress when many young and minority voters stay home in November. (Obviously, I personally think the Obama backlash is a force -- otherwise I wouldn't have written a book about it.)

But that is 2010. The new short-sighted conservative vision is definitely not 2020, or 2030.

Political demographer Ruy Teixiera, who forecast the rise of the Obama coaltion, is back with a piece (full PDF here) focused on the grim long-term outlook for the GOP. Their only hope to re-assemble a majority in the coming decades, he insists, is to do the opposite of what they're doing now, to move to the center.

*Move to the center on social issues. The culture wars may have worked for a while, but shifting demographics make them a loser for the party today and going forward. A more moderate approach would help with Millennials, where the party must close a yawning gap, and with white college graduates, who still lean Republican but just barely. The party also needs to make a breakthrough with Hispanics, and that won’t happen unless it shifts its image toward social tolerance, especially on immigration.

Like I said in the headline, good luck with that. The things that Republicans would need to do to stop their long-term erosion -- for example, reaching out to immigrants instead of appearing, fairly or not, to be against them -- are completely contra to what animates the majority within the GOP minority, which is older whites and the media figures like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck who hold them together. Tom Schaller, writing at the Five-Thirty-Eight blog, has an excellent analysis:

What's interesting to me about most of Teixeira's suggested changes is that the GOP is either not doing them, or doing something close to the opposite....On immigration, if anything the GOP has taken a turn toward anti-amnesty, fence-building xenophobia. The Republicans may have eased off the gas pedal somewhat on tax-cutting, but the conversational shift to deficit reduction and fears of growing government size still carries strong and familiar anti-government overtones. There seems to be less Republican focus on hot-button issues like evolution/creationism or global warming--which presumably turn off many college-educated whites by dint of their anti-empirical and anti-intellectual content--but that is a matter of salience and decibel level rather than a transformation in the party's issue positions or platforms.

Of these, immigration is the most problematic -- so much so that it may actually cost them in some 2010 races that should have been slam-dunk Republican, like the governor's race in Texas:


The irony is that it should not have been hard for Republicans to at least hold even with Democrats in capturing the growing Latino vote, maybe even gaining a Hispanic majority. Many Latino immigrants are somewhat conservative on social issues, could have been wooed on certain old-school conservative economic ideas, and some came to America because of hardcore anti-Communism, but now they have been put off for good by what they have heard on talk radio and now seen in Arizona and other places.

Still, America needs a two-party (at least) system -- while I think the Democrats are looking at a generation of dominance, a new GOP will probably emerge at some point. I find it hard to imagine it will look like Teixiera's vision. But it definitely won't look like the Tea Party, either.

The passage of the Arizona "papers, please" anti-immigration law has forced Republican politicians around the country into a political box canyon that does not offer an easy escape. For fear of offending the emergent Tea Party - and other anti-immigrant zealots in their own base -- they are precipitating a massive realignment of Latino voters nationwide.

According to data released by Public Policy Polling (PPP), Texas Governor Rick Perry has lost his early lead over Democratic challenger Bill White and the race is now tied. The movement from a previous PPP poll in February comes entirely from Hispanic voters.