Demography doesn’t have to be destiny

The post title above is the key message of a rather excellent piece from BooMan today.

Kimberly Strassel and Rahm Emanuel have very different messages.  Ms. Strassel, writing in the Wall Street Journal, warns conservatives that the president’s superior turnout operation is not responsible for his victory and that the Republicans cannot win future elections simply by matching the Democrats’ technical expertise.  To win, the GOP must compete for Hispanic votes, and that means going in to Latino communities and talking to them.

Mayor Emanuel agrees that the turnout machine didn’t win the election for the Democrats but he doesn’t agree that the victory was preordained by demography and the Republicans’ weakness with minority voters.  Emanuel emphasizes that the Republicans can improve their turnout efforts and they can change their strategies to attract more Latinos.  To continue their successes, the Democrats needs to realize that they won because of the superiority of their ideas.

Of course, Mayor Emanuel lays out a series of “Democratic” ideas, some of which aren’t too popular with the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.  Yet, his argument against complacency is a good one.  The Democrats can’t take voters for granted or think that their organizational advantages are carved in stone.  Where he and Ms. Strassel share a viewpoint is their belief that demography doesn’t have to be destiny.  The Republicans can adapt.

Ms. Strassel emphasizes the demographic nature of the Republicans’ defeat, but only in order to argue that it must be addressed.  She doesn’t say so explicitly, but it’s clear that she thinks nominating a Latino to run on the ticket is no substitute for community engagement.  She wants Republicans on the ground in Latino communities, talking to people and getting supporters registered to vote.  This would also be true for the growing Asian communities, and even to a degree in black communities.

Of course, getting Hispanics or Asians to vote Republican in numbers that matter isn’t going to be as simple as sidelining the racist portion of the rightwing base then saying “we don’t hate you any more” to minorities. It’s not even going to be enough to show them that the GOP has changed tack by engagement through voter registration and local debate. The Republican party is still going to need policies that a significant number of people from minorities want to vote for. A Hispanic is not just that label any more than a single mother or a white man is. Byron York notes:

social scientist Charles Murray looked across a broad range of data and found little to support the notion that Hispanics are natural Republicans. Hispanics “aren’t more religious than everyone else … aren’t married more than everyone else … aren’t more conservative than everyone else,” Murray wrote. In addition, Hispanics don’t work harder than other groups and are only slightly more pro-life than the rest of the population.

The available data, Murray concluded, “paint a portrait that gives no reason to think that Republicans have an untapped pool of social conservatives to help them win elections.”

In addition, exit poll information suggests Hispanics voted on a number of issues beyond illegal immigration — and those issues favored Democrats. A majority of Hispanics who voted Nov. 6 favored keeping Obamacare. A majority favored higher taxes for higher earners. A majority — two-thirds, in fact — said abortion should be legal.

None of this is to say the GOP shouldn’t seek more Hispanic votes. There are opportunities; for example, Romney made significant inroads among Hispanic voters with college degrees. But the fact is, Republicans had a serious problem with lots of voters, as well as potential voters who didn’t go to the polls.

I’ve long had a soft spot for “Captain” Ed Morrissey – a man so far removed from me on the political spectrum that we agree on very little indeed, but someone who has a brain and some intellectual integrity, as well as someone it’s easy to get along with personally. I think Ed gets it.

In order to win national elections, Republicans have to compete in all communities. That doesn’t mean pandering, but it does mean putting free-market, small-government philosophies and slogans into concrete policy proposals that will improve the lives of voters.  It’s not enough to talk about empowering investors to take risk in the American economy; we need to talk about how we can encourage that investment to go into urban centers to revitalize neighborhoods and create jobs.  We need to commit to school choice and educational reform, in combination with a shift in control away from federal mandates (and the costly administration they require) to the local school boards and parents.  We have to have specific policy proposals on the table and the commitment to follow through on them.

I’d argue with Ed that the GOP is still going to have a massive problem in that too many of its litmus test policies are, frankly, not grounded in any empirical reality or any political philosophy except that of enabling extra rent-seeking from the already wealthy – and so is going to have a massive problem until that changes too. But he has the basics of a Republican solution. It needs to shift its outreach attempts to convince groups who aren’t voting conservative that there’s a reason to do so, while also moving its policies back towards a conservative center that will be more appealing to more voters. Outreach and policy changes.

Sadly, neither his commenters nor the bulk of the far right could find a clue in a clue factory on “get a clue free day”. They want to double down, cut the purse strings, block everything, and move even further into the land of old-white-guy denial. I bet the powers that be in the Republican Party are studying hard how the Dems manage to get their base to turn out and vote the party line, time after time and even at the primary stage, with a message of “we suck but not as badly as the other guys would”.

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Steve Hynd

Most recently I was Editor in Chief of The Agonist from Feb 2012 to Feb 2013. My blogging began at Newshoggers and I’ve had the immense pleasure of working with some great writers there and around the web ever since, including at Crooks & Liars. I'm a late 40′s, Scottish ex-pat, now married to a wonderful Texan, with Honours in Philosophy from Univ. of Stirling, UK 1986. I worked most of life in business insurance industry (fire, accident, liability) including 12 years as a broker/underwriter/correspondent at Lloyd’s of London. Being from the other side of the pond, my political interests tend to focus on how US foreign policy affects the rest of the planet. Other interests include early and dark-ages British history, literature and cognitive philosophy/science.

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