Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The End Of The Republican Party As We Know It

(Synopsis: Social conservatives are out of touch with the mainstream electorate. Fiscal conservatives are unpopular with the mainstream electorate. That spells Game Over for the Republicans.)

I'm going to go out on a limb by predicting that not only is Mitt Romney going to lose November's election but that the Republican Party itself will never win another presidential election until they reinvent themselves to be more in tune with modern society.

It's a bit of a bold prediction, especially coming from someone who is not American, but distance lends perspective ("And what should they know of England who only England know?" - Rudyard Kipling), and I say this as an serious amateur student of world history and current affairs who has studied the world  (and the US) with more than a little interest for over forty years.

There are demographic and social changes afoot in US society (as in the rest of the world), and none of these changes favours the Republicans.

  • Women are becoming more aware of their rights as individuals, and men too are more accommodating of an equal role for women. A religious view of abortion imposed on women will be resisted strongly, yet this is exactly the position that the Republican party has adopted. The term "the Republicans' war on women" is increasingly heard, as is the slogan, "If you're a woman and vote Republican, you're a moron".
  • Non-white births now outnumber whites, and many US cities have non-white majorities. The demographics are shifting towards an ethnically pluralistic society. In a country where elections are decided by marginal states and marginal constituencies within states, minor demographic shifts can have major electoral consequences. The Republicans' social conservatism (evidenced by their hard-liners' opposition to the DREAM Act) is, arguably, inherently less friendly to diversity. The party's public posture is a more sanitised pro-nationalism and integration, but the views of the rank and file are more xenophobic and exclusionary, and this is the true face of the party. It's a formula for electoral loss.
  • Society is becoming more understanding and tolerant of what used to be considered "sexual deviance". Gay rights are far less controversial to the average person, and contraception even less so. The traditional family is no longer seen as the only acceptable social unit. Social conservatives (the core of the Republican party) are increasingly isolated from the views of mainstream society.
  • Education and scientific thinking are becoming more widespread. Blind belief in doctrine, whether of the religious or nationalistic kind, is less prevalent among the educated. These positions are mainstays of the Republicans, and they are increasingly being abandoned, even if not always publicly questioned, by the educated voting public. It explains why the "blue states" (Democrat-leaning) are the coastal states where education levels are high, and "red states" (Republican-leaning) are in the less educated heartland.
  • Religion (especially dogma and superstition) are losing their grip. The social conservatives' base is steadily eroding, and we must not mistake noise for number. Bible-thumping seems a joke to all but the most hardcore supporters.
  • There is an increasing awareness of economic unfairness. John Steinbeck's quote (“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires”) is not as true as it once was. The worldwide Occupy movement has focused the attention of the 99% against the 1% everywhere, including the US. This is a genie that cannot be put back in the bottle by cutting taxes for the rich and managing the deficit by slashing programs for the poor, which is the Republicans' plan for ending the deficit.
  • All of the above are aspects of generational change. The young are more likely to be educated and have socially progressive views. The more conservative tend to be older and (how do I say this delicately?) are dying out, both literally and figuratively. With each election, the demographic shifts to a more liberal group of voters.

Each of these changes is marginal, but the trend is strengthening from election to election. The state of the economy at the time of an election has an impact on the chances of the incumbent, but it is a superficial blip over a longer-term trend. The media also tends to report the loudest, the most strident and the most outrageous voices, and these are disproportionately from the Right, but the trends are quietly pointing in the opposite direction.

America is becoming more liberal. There's no denying it, and there's no stopping it.

The one potent arrow in the Republican quiver is "small government". Correctly stated as the quest for a balanced budget, this is a laudable goal, but it will be politically very hard to reel back the wasteful spending that various interests now see as entitlements. It will have to be a long and hard process, with only incremental progress, and the US may never quite get there. In any case, the fiscal conservatives' platform alienates at least as many voters as it attracts, so while it is a noble goal, this is not an argument that can win an election.

Perhaps after the Republicans lose 2012, and definitely after they lose 2016, the party will rip itself apart. The conservative base and the moderate fringe (which by then will have more adherents) will part ways. The conservatives will isolate themselves to irrelevance and be gone in another couple of elections. The moderates will struggle to differentiate themselves from the Democrats.

In the medium-term future, the US will have two Democratic parties who will have to fight on local issues and around personalities. As an ideology, the Right is finished. It is simply out of touch with modernity.
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