Smith: Long-Term Future Looks Bleak for Republicans

Posted March 17, 2010 at 4:57pm

If there is one thing most pundits agree on, it is that the Democrats are cruisin’ for a bruisin’ this November. Whether because of President Barack Obama’s overreaching, continued high unemployment levels or the effectiveness of GOP smears, commentators believe Democrats are soon going to look like Superman’s sparring partner.

[IMGCAP(1)]The problem is, they’re not. Yes, the Democrats will likely lose Congressional seats — only twice in the past 100 years has the president’s party not lost seats in its first midterm elections. But the fact is that the demographics of the country are overwhelmingly favorable to the Democratic Party, and only getting more favorable with every day. Far from being able to look forward to a conservative renaissance, the GOP has a very bleak future.

The myth that America is permanent Republican country emerged with force after President George W. Bush’s astonishing 2002 midterm victories. Books with titles such as “The Right Nation,” “Building Red America” and “One Party Country” were passed around by excited Republicans and terrified Democrats. Republican strategist Karl Rove became routinely referred to in the media as Boy Genius or the Architect, with even liberals grudgingly acknowledging his brilliance. “How Conservatives Won the Heart of America” went the subtitle of “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” a hugely popular book on conservatives’ diabolical genius.

And then 2006 and 2008 happened. Far from being the opening credits of a durable Republican majority, as Rove promised, Bush’s presidency was so disastrous it discredited the party. How did the pundits get it so wrong? The most important answer is that they ignored the shifting demographics in the country. Mesmerized by the tactical wizardry of Rove and Co., observers overlooked the truth that the country’s makeup changed.

Consider: The largest and fastest-growing minority group, Hispanics, are overwhelmingly Democratic voters. They made up just 7 percent of the electorate in 2000, but they are now 11 percent of the country and, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2020, they will be 17.8 percent. They voted for Obama by about 2 to 1. The GOP reacted to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination with racial obsessions, only furthering alienating Hispanics. If Obama sponsors immigration reform legislation and conservatives react with more nativism, the Democrats could solidify the electoral loyalties of Hispanics for decades.

And, of course, it’s not only Hispanics who are pallbearers for the Republicans. Young voters and blacks prefer the Democrats as well. The Democrats can capitalize on their loyalty, as the two groups came out in unprecedented numbers in 2008. A new analysis from Gallup found that Obama’s approval rating had dropped among all groups — except young people, who favor the president at a whopping 66 percent. Both blocs have supported the Democrats for years — and both are growing as shares of the American population.

The reality is that white males, the core of the GOP’s base, are shrinking in number and electoral power. Nearly 98 percent of Ronald Reagan’s voters in 1980 were white, when they formed 89 percent of the electorate. But in 2008, they formed less than 75 percent of voters. With nonwhite voters voting for Democratic presidents upward of 90 percent of the time, the numbers just seem to put the GOP’s future in the intensive care unit.

Yes, all this may not matter much in November, as disaffected whites rage against the party in power during a time of high unemployment. But the short-term trees should not distract anybody from the long-term forest — the future of the Republican Party is very, very bleak.

Jordan Michael Smith is a writer in Washington, D.C. His writing has appeared in print and/or online for Foreign Policy, the New Republic, Dissent, Columbia Journalism Review and many other publications.