Tuesday, May 21, 2024

In The Blogs: The Emerging Republican Minority

Fivethirtyeight.com has a fascinating post discussing a recent working paper by Ruy Teixeira.

“The Democratic Party will become even more dominated by the emerging constituencies that gave Barack Obama his historic 2008 victory, while the Republican Party will be forced to move toward the center to compete for these constituencies. As a result, modern conservatism is likely to lose its dominant place in the GOP,” he writes, adding that “the Republican Party as currently constituted is in need of serious and substantial changes in approach.”(emphasis in original 538 post)

[…] What’s interesting are the recommendations Teixeira offers–to Republicans, as opposed to Democrats, the target audience for much of [Teixeira’s] previous writings–for how to deal with the challenges of the population changes ahead[and how] the GOP is either not doing them, or doing something close to the opposite. If anything, the opposite is happening. Indeed, the single biggest storyline of the past year for conservatives and the Republican Party is the rise of the tea party protest movement.

[…]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.

In the near term, as Teixeira correctly points out, the GOP needs little more than an anti-Democrat pushback message: on TARP, size of government, health care spending, whatever; they don’t need an affirmative case. […] But in the longer term, the Republicans need new ideas that are rooted in some recognition of the changing demographics of the country[.]

The gravamen of Teixeira’s suggestions was, basically, that the Republican party needs to move toward the center on social issues and find ways to attract Hispanic and more-educated white voters. Without implementing some or all of these, Teixeira notes, “the ‘party of no’ has a limited shelf life.”  However, as Tom Schaller (author of the 538 article) points out in his conclusion, there are at least three problems that Republicans as a whole face once they decide it is time to modernize the party and implement changes like those suggested by Teixeira.

The nature of the GOP’s demographic-electoral problem is three-fold. First, the challenge of trying to evolve and adapt is itself limited by demographics because the GOP’s older and whiter residual white minority coalition is simply less amenable to the sort of changes it would take to modernize the party. Second, so many of the figures within the party who might be able to lead a center-right revival have been beaten in recent cycles, with the old Ford/Dole/Rockefeller wing decimated by the 2006 and 2008 cycles. […] Finally, it is simply not in the nature of conservatism to foment change or be out in front of demographic and social changes: Conservatism works best as a reaction to–not necessarily reactionary, but a reaction nonetheless–to oncoming, rapid changes. (emphasis added)

Now, while I have no reason to disagree with Teixeira on a macro level, I wonder how well this paper and its conclusions translate to Arkansas, where, (a) reluctance to take a more modern approach to social issues is pervasive; (b) though there is a decent-sized Hispanic population, Hispanics are not the voting bloc that they theoretically are elsewhere; and (c) the percentage of the population with a two- or four-year degree is appallingly low. (See also here and especially here. Thank your local deity for West Virginia, I suppose.)

If I had to guess, I would say that, as with pretty much everything else, Arkansas will be among the last to see any appreciable change in the Republican party’s strategy.  The college-educated Republicans that I know are much more likely (in my experience) to favor certain social changes — many of them are fiscally conservative and socially moderate/liberal — but they are all too frequently drowned out by the voices of the un-educated and under-educated members of the party, all of whom it seems fear even the slightest bit of social change.  And because those more progressive (a term I use here as a complement) Republicans are so vastly outnumbered, Arkansas’s Republican politicians are loath to listen to them.

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