Republican Decline, Part XXVII
It isn't just wishful thinking, it's real data showing the decline of the Republican party. Today's Wall Street Journal
has the latest, reporting on a study by prominent Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio:
For Republicans hoping the 2008 campaign will bring a fresh start after the troubled tenure of President Bush, there are sobering signs: Evidence indicates that the party's problems with the American electorate are much bigger than the president and won't go away when he leaves office.
Recent voter surveys, including private polling done by a leading Republican strategist, suggest a broader erosion of Republicans' appeal. In particular, three groups crucial to Mr. Bush's goal of a "permanent Republican majority" are drifting away: younger voters, Hispanics and independents.
The reasons include the Iraq war, conservatives' emphasis on social issues such as gay marriage, abortion and stem-cell research, and a party-led backlash against illegal immigrants that has left many Hispanic and Asian-American citizens feeling unwelcome. The upshot is that Republicans face structural problems that stem from generational, demographic and societal changes and aren't easily overcome without changing fundamental party positions.
Fabrizio found -- consistent with his findings in a comprehensive study of Republicans
earlier this year (discussed here
) -- that the GOP is growing both older and more conservative. This isn't surprising, given that the present Republican party coalition is dominated by a sharply ideological conservative movement whose ideas and leadership have their origins in the Goldwater era.
The Bush administration's efforts to overcome these structural problems seem to have failed in multiple ways. Their initial efforts to overcome the party's image for fiscal meanness and to broaden the GOP beyond its white base -- thus "compassionate conservatism" and the constant references to "the Hispanic vote" and "the black vote" -- have been undermined by backlashes from fiscal conservatives (who moan endlessly about "big government conservatism") and race-baiting strategists from the party's own Congressional wing. And the idea that they could rally around social security privatization seems both cynical and naive -- an attempt to exploit the anxiety of younger Americans while ignoring the fact that young voters are more supportive
of activist government than are their elders. And, of course, nothing they could do would be enough to overcome the damage caused by their disastrous medacity and incompetence in Iraq.
All of this is why the pressure is on the current crop of Republican candidates to come up with the ideas to revitalize the Republican party, perhaps by redefining conservatism for a new era. We've seen that some candidates, on a symbolic level at least, seem to represent the efforts of those feeling their way toward new models. But we've seen very little in the way of actual, working ideas.
Part of the problem is that Republicans remain captive to the conservative machine, and that machine is deeply invested in the delusion that its own preoccupations represent majoritarian sentiment. They don't. Republicans are beginning to understand how disadvantaged they are electorally, but they don't see how marginalized they are ideologically.
Until they do -- and as Peter Beinart has suggested
, maybe it'll take the efforts of a Republican Leadership Council -- they won't find themselves on the road to recovery. Like weak parties at any point in American history, the best they'll be able to hope for is to steal occasional victories with glamorous candidates. But that won't do anything to reverse the rot within.
Labels: conservatives, Republicans