The Incredible Shrinking GOP

Cartagram by Mark Newman showing the relative strength of the Democratic and Republican vote.

The results of Tuesday’s election, in which Republicans failed of their two principal goals, and indeed lost ground even in the House, indicate that the GOP is in danger of becoming a minority party.

The cartogram above, one of a series of maps created by Mark Newman of the University of Michigan to show the real strength and distribution of the popular vote, depicts the limits of the GOP’s popular appeal.

While the Republican party continues to command the allegiance of bands of Americans in southern and land-locked western states, these states are not particularly populous.  In the more heavily populated and cosmopolitan areas of the United States, the Democratic Party under Barack Obama is consolidating its hold.

Voting strength of Democrats and Republicans by county, with purple showing county-level mix

Moreover, many of the counties that the Republicans managed to win Tuesday are actually divided and could readily swing back the other way.  In the county-level map above, only the streaks that are pure red and reddish can be regarded as Republican strongholds.

The Republicans in denial

Interestingly, the Republican leadership seems incapable of grasping the fact that its positions and values are increasingly out of step with those of the nation.  John Dickerson of Slate, appearing on Washington Week on Friday, described the Romney-Ryan campaign’s illusory anticipation of victory: it simply couldn’t imagine there being enough Americans to support the President, though numerous polls had shown that support for him was holding and building.  A contempt for the whole of the electorate, and an inability to embrace its diversity, spelled doom for Republicans in the 2012 campaign.

Look for Republicans to continue to grasp at procedural, legal, monetized, and PR-based tactics to sustain the illusion that they remain a formidable party.  In fact, unless the Republican Party dramatically transforms itself, renounces extremism, and embraces diversity and moderation, its showing will be even weaker next time.

Click here to view all of Mark Newman’s maps and learn more about what they mean.

MORE ON MY TAKE ON THE GOP:
What If They Can’t Take the Capital? September 2012.
A Great White Nation of Self-Made Men, September 2012.
Moment of Truth for the GOP’s Conservative Wing, August 2012.
Should Leaders Who Can’t Govern Their Party Govern the Country? June 2012.
Is the Republican Party Dying? March 2012.
2008: The Critical Election That Wasn’t (Part II), January 2012.
Parties Made New: Our Critical Elections February 2012.

What If They Can’t Take The Capital?

H. H. Green, "Bird's Eye View of Washington, DC," 1916 (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

We may not have reached the turning point in the 2012 campaign, but Mitt Romney‘s impolitic behavior has got me thinking about what it might mean for the Republican Party if it fails to take the presidency this time around.

The party wars raging these days are much like real wars in which a few goals are recognized as being of overwhelming importance.  In military conflict, taking or holding a capital is often paramount to victory. The force that fights to take a capital but never succeeds condemns itself to a war without end.  It never gains sway.

The outlook for the GOP

Despite the Republicans’ emphasis on unity, theirs is a badly divided party, composed of two parts, ideologically riven, and in real danger of breaking apart.  Throughout the campaign, moderates within the party have been hoping that its two wings can be welded together sufficiently to secure a presidential victory.  Should the Republican party fail of this goal, it will have difficulty convincing us that it remains a dominant political force.

The Republican Party still has vast resources and an impressive organization; it has some intelligent personnel and many, many backers and devotees.  Despite all this, it could go into decline, if the presidential contest suggests that it is no longer organized around ideas and policies that have national appeal, that can command the assent of a voting majority.

A party shy of the presidency

Is winning the presidency all that important to the life of a party?  It is when the party has been struggling for several presidential election cycles to demonstrate that its candidates truly represent the will of the people.  Historically, when a party cannot win the White House, that party fades.  It happened with the Federalist party to which the Founders belonged.  It happened to the Whig Party in the 1850s.  It happens when a perfectly good party lack leaders capable of reshaping the party’s ideology for changing times.

A party that cannot win the presidency risks the loss of its adherents and its leadership, too.  Without the presidency, a party cannot initiate and bring legislation to fruition without cooperation from the other side.  The Republican Party has set itself in opposition to the Democratic Party.  Instead of building the goodwill that has historically proved the salvation of a minority party, it has shown open and increasing enmity toward the other side.

Emphasis on controlling the electoral process

Anxiety pervades the Republican Party, which since the year 2000 has concentrated more and more, not on recasting itself ideologically, but on controlling the electoral process in hope of achieving a favorable return.  Ever since George W. Bush’s contested win that year, which came down to interpreting a bunch of chads clinging to physical ballots in Florida, the Republicans have become obsessed with state-level control of the election rolls.

G. W. Bush’s re-election in 2004 occurred amid controversies over voter suppression in states like Ohio, where Republicans had succeeded in removing voters from the rolls through aggressive challenges.  In the current election cycle, we have seen concerted efforts in several Republican-controlled states to tighten up voting requirements and to make it more difficult for certain classes of voters to gain representation or vote early.

Only respect for the electorate can save the GOP

It’s a shame, because intelligent leadership and constructive ideas are what the GOP needs.  In the end, only better ideas and a genuine respect of the electorate can save the Republican Party from the minority status that threatens it now.

Image: H. H. Green, “Bird’s eye view of Washington, DC” (1916), from this source.
Other wonderful old maps and views of the nation’s capital are here.

RELATED ARTICLES:
Voter Harassment, Circa 2012, New York Times.
Is the Republican Party Dying?, Our Polity.
A Great White Nation of Self-Made Men, Our Polity.
Democrats: Shake It Up, Our Polity.
2008: The Critical Election That Wasn’t (Part II), Our Polity.

A Great White Nation of Self-Made Men

The Republican National Convention created a strange impression, painting a peculiar picture of the US economy and its citizens’ woes.  Not only the present was distorted, but history, too.  I listened carefully to what the speakers and party-sponsored commercials praised, and compared it to the nation and the realities I knew.   There was a huge gap between the two.

America is at a cross-roads for many reasons, among them the fact that several enormous historical advantages we’ve enjoyed are waning.  The nation that once enjoyed an immense over-supply of land and relative scarcity of labor has matured into a nation where resources are becoming more precious and the population is more and more exposed to underemployment and fierce competition.  Global change is reinforcing the trend.  Yet rather than acknowledge or adjust to the change, Republicans have decided to dismiss it and argue that a flawed president is to blame.  Only bad people stand between us and the restoration of the nation’s former glory.

No credit was allowed to the great federal structure that allowed us to flourish in the first place, nor to the amazing natural inheritance that sustains the US—superior natural resources that should be husbanded rather than squandered or spoiled.

The vast historic role of the state in nation-building went unacknowledged—was belittled, even.  Rand Paul jeered at the idea that infrastructure investment creates prosperity, insisting the opposite was somehow the case.  Try telling that to the great 19th-century railway magnates, who depended entirely on land grants and laws enacted by Congress to create their lines.  Or to the era’s land-speculators, who knew that towns would grow mainly where railroads were placed.  Or to the first telegraph companies, whose networks piggybacked on the railroad rights-of-way that federal legislation had so thoughtfully made.  Without the federal government, states would have built useless networks of dead-end roads.

Even America’s private enterprises might have remained small had it not been for the protection that early Supreme Court decisions gave them.  Without such protection, all corporate entities would have been stymied, including those that built the nation’s first roads, bridges, and schools.

The Republicans committed other disturbing elisions.  I listened to the praise for families; I admired the attractiveness of Jenna Ryan and Ann Romney; their picture-perfect children were impressive, too.  The world of the 2012 Republicans is a world of stay-at-home mothers who don’t need to worry about limiting their family size or figuring out how to feed an additional mouth.  It’s a world where there’s plenty of time for charity, because the fortunate people in it somehow have plenty to spare.  And that’s good, because in this Republican world, government help is bad.  All we want, Paul Ryan tells us, is to be left alone.

Absent was any acknowledgment of the demographic trends of the last several decades, which have seen the rise of delayed child-bearing, increased family limitation and planning, and the rise of two-career couples working outside the home.  The party celebrated its female members—but these women apparently never needed a student loan, never needed protection from workplace bias, never needed family planning or contraception while single.  One must suppose this, because the Republicans have been active in opposing, attacking, and weakening the structure of support that has enabled more American women to gain education, control reproduction, contribute more to the family economy, and earn decent livings.

Without such support, how are young women supposed to take care of themselves and their families?  Implicit in the worldview paraded at the convention is that marriage in itself provides wives and mothers with adequate financial protection.  Yet the number of women living the dream that the beautiful Republican spouses embody is painfully few.

The Republican convention’s treatment of race was perhaps most astonishing.  The party sought to promote itself as a “brand” friendly to minorities, despite the fact that it has been working hard in states such as Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania to raise voting requirements, restrict early voting, and redraw districts in a way that make it harder for minorities to vote or gain representation.

I was agog at efforts to depict President Obama as a lazy, do-nothing character who did not understand struggle, success, or hard work.  It was a “dog-whistle” portrayal of a super-high-achieving guy that played off of deeply engrained racial stereotypes.  The topper came when Clint Eastwood re-imagined the president as someone who was anti-social and vulgar, enacting a racist fantasy (perhaps unwittingly) at the close of his imaginary dialogue with the president by encouraging the crowd to chant “Make My Day.”  We all know what happens to low-lifes who dare to mess with Dirty Harry.

It was a shameful spectacle spelling a new nadir for the G. O. P.

RELATED:
The Map of Federal Benefits, Our Polity.

Moment of Truth for GOP’s Conservative Wing

‘Be careful what you wish for’ is an old saying.  For nearly a generation, social conservatives have been pushing to reorganize American life around their strict vision of the world, an effort that has received a boost in recent years when the kindred Tea Party emerged.  The two movements, which could never have achieved majority status on their own, are poised to score a significant victory in their quest by seizing control of the Republican Party.  Moderate Republicans, who have chosen a strategy of accommodation and appeasement, are facing the destruction of their party from inside.

A minority grows bold
Conservatives are betting that their views are a majority: that’s why they are uninterested in compromise.  That’s why they’ve conducted vigorous state-level efforts to dislodge moderate Republicans from Congress, a dreaded process moderates refer to as being “primaried from the right.”  Conservatives have ousted moderates because they believe they don’t need them.  Now, with the Republican convention going on, the moderates’ position is growing more embarrassing, as their status as captives of the right becomes clearer every day.

Romney’s success in the presidential primaries should have been a caution to conservatives: a reminder that moderation is still a more more marketable quality than any of the varieties of conservatism that Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Ron Paul, or Rick Santorum were peddling.  Despite the vast media attention these conservatives received, their pull at the polls proved paltry.  Yet the pull to the right is so inexorable that Romney, once nominated, felt compelled to choose a conservative running mate, when he might have been better served by choosing a seasoned moderate Republican who knows something about foreign policy.

Moderate Republicans lack a leader who can demonstrate control
There is no moderate Republican strong enough to restrain the conservative wing and demonstrate that moderates remain firmly in control.  Figures like House Speaker John Boehner have struggled unsuccessfully to marshal conservative forces and yoke them to an efficacious national agenda.  But conservatives, enjoying their power, won’t compromise.  The Republicans have become the party of ‘No.’

The party platform is a humiliation for moderates
The Republican party platform is the new humiliation—a socially retrograde document that moderates must attempt to explain away.  Virginia governor Bob McDonnell took a stab at it last night, when he tried to convince Judy Woodruff of the PBS Newshour that the party’s platform represented only ‘the grassroots’ but wasn’t really a binding statement of what all Republicans believed.  Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers also appeared on the show, disavowing Todd Akin’s comments on ‘legitimate rape’ as ‘unacceptable’ and ‘wrong’ while trying to minimize the implications of such views and the fact that many in her party harbor them.  McDonnell also tried to dismiss the objectionable planks by claiming they were ‘small issues’ and just a ‘small part’ of what Republicans believe.

As moderates’ influence wanes, chances increase that the right will destroy the GOP
Yet if these opinions are not representative of the Party, why couldn’t party leaders keep them out of the platform?  Signs of ideological strain within the GOP are mounting, again raising the question, “Should leaders who can’t govern their party govern the country?”—a question I explored here several months ago.

The November election represents a moment of truth for conservatives and the GOP.  At that moment, we will discover whether conservatives’ assumptions are right: whether the backward-looking vision they espouse is one that a national majority cherishes, too.  And if they are wrong?  They will have destroyed the Grand Old Party in pursuit of their dreams.

RELATED ARTICLES:
S. Barsy, Bring Back The Platform, Our Polity.
S. Barsy, Should Leaders Who Can’t Govern Their Party Govern the Country?, Our Polity.
S. Barsy, 2008: The Critical Election That Wasn’t (Part II), Our Polity.
A. Nagourney, A Party of Factions Gathers, Seeking Consensus, New York Times.

Should Leaders Who Can’t Govern Their Party Govern the Country?

This is the question that the turmoil within the Republican Party prompts these days, as the moderate wing of the party battles to maintain control over a grass-roots extremism it has legitimated.

Is this what a dying political party looks like?  This is what flashes through my mind when I read or hear about the Republican Party.  The party isn’t dying, at least not yet: but the very forces of intolerance and intransigence it encouraged are assailing it from within.  Unless the moderate wing of the GOP can reassert itself and prevail, the party will continue its disastrous turn to the right.  Not only will its prospects for power dim, but the entire country will suffer, too.

Extreme conservatism is a minority view
Despite the media hype—fanned by talk radio and cable TV—extreme conservatism is not the dominant American viewpoint.  We are not a nation of extremists.  The desire of the country’s majority for sophisticated, moderate leadership was expressed in its 2008 rejection of Sarah Palin and, more recently, in Republican voters’ resounding rejection of conservative presidential hopefuls Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry.  Each of these candidates received lavish publicity, arousing fears that they represented the new face of America; in each case, support for these candidates proved meager indeed.

Weakening the fiber of nation and party
Yet the fate of the Republican Party is being directed by this assertive minority.  It’s the faction that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich chose to pander to.  It’s the faction that hates the separation of church and state, that would attack the independence of our judiciary.  It’s the faction that’s against modern medicine.  That’s against female contraception.  That’s uncomfortable with racial equality.  In their quest for power, these conservatives have begun chipping away at principles and institutions that formerly sacred to all Americans and protective of us all.

Moderate Republicans are captive
In the face of this, the only Republicans to speak out against extremism have been members of the Bush family.  During the primary season, Jeb Bush distanced himself from the new conservatism while signalling disappointment at the Party’s loss of vision.  Barbara Bush has repeatedly expressed dismay at Republicans’ uncivil conduct and their disavowal of compromise.

These, though, are just two voices in a party that, by and large, has chosen to amplify and accommodate spurious right-wing demands.  Prior to 2010, there were reasons to hope that the social conservative wing of the party, for want of a victory, was moving into a more quiescent, marginal phase.  Unfortunately, the emergence of the Tea Party, with its new crop of faces, its fiscal focus, and its idealistic hatred of our federal tradition, has given new energy to the disparate elements that make up social conservatism.

Citizens United has further exaggerated the significance of rabble-rousing candidates like Newt Gingrich, whose funding was all out of proportion to the support he enjoyed. 

A terrible tactical decision
All along, moderate Republicans could have tamped down and disavowed right-wing extremism as it began taking hold, like crabgrass, on their impeccably manicured property.  Republicans could have chosen not to assimilate the Tea Party.  They could have refused funding to candidates whose intolerance is extreme enough to qualify as unpatriotic. They could have silenced the racist “dog whistle” that goes by the name of the birther movement.  Instead, moderates have chosen to go along and get along with a dangerous minority.  Why?  Because they need the support and approval of these voters too badly.  Without this virulent sub-population, moderate Republicans cannot hope to attain the majority needed to elect a president or control Congress.

Consumed by a wasting disease from inside
Now this emboldened faction is paralyzing and destroying moderate Republican leaders.  In recent primaries, Tea Partiers have targeted old-line Republicans like Richard Lugar for defeat.  They have reduced House Speaker John Boehner to impotence by stalemating last year’s negotiations over the debt ceiling by refusing to compromise.  Boehner bristled at David Axelrod’s recent allusion to a “Republican reign of terror” but, in truth, moderate Republicans are beginning to bear the brunt of  a “reign of terror” that their conservative wing is waging from inside.

Is Mitt Romney the man to speak truth to power?
It’s hard to imagine Mitt Romney, who wants so badly to be liked, disciplining and harmonizing the unwieldy elements that now constitute “the Grand Old Party.”  In his eagerness to gain office, Romney has promised to be the conservatives’ standard-bearer, while hoping the rest of us won’t consider what that means.  Unlike Jeb and Barbara Bush, Romney lacks the gumption to speak out against a strain of political intolerance that could spell the ruin of Republicanism—and that’s begun to harm the republic, too.

RELATED:
Is the Republican Party Dying?

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