Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dying Republicans at the Crossroads

I am normally suspicious of the glee that comes at pointing out declines in Republican primary voting. There are a number of people of the left, (Kos in particular) that bang the drum with glee over the lack of enthusiasm at the overall decline in voter turnout in these primaries, most often summarized under the guise of not really liking the choices put in front of them.

Why? The answer is entirely anecdotal, but the 2010 Kentucky Senate primary is illustrative of the irrelevance of these numbers. When comparing the vote turnout for the two party primaries, Democratic turnout topped Republican turnout by a margin of roughly 5:3. However Jack Conway was still defeated handily in the general election by Rand Paul by a margin of 7:5. Regardless of whether Republicans show up for the primary, they do tend to show up on election day.

This is the long way of saying that my suspicion of the relevance of primary data as any sort of main indicator of party health is robust. With that caveat, I found this article on the current state of the Republican primary voter to not be the least bit surprising.

Essentially, the demographic that the mainline Republican Party rode to power starting with Nixon in 1968 (white southern evangelicals) now essentially is the Republican Party at the federal level. Mainline, old guard conservatives have been phased out. Certainly, there is a component of the party that contains Libertarian elements, primarily the white male with some college education under 40 portion of the party, but the voters with actual influence fit this demographic analysis pretty nicely.

And, over the short term, you can make money off of those people pretty nicely. Certainly, they have a disproportionate attention in the media because it's easy to sell advertising to the people that make up this demographic.

But over the long term, as this fringe gets dragged further and further rightward, it becomes more difficult to market to those outside of it and, as such, it loses it's influence on a diversifying society as a whole. For example, the 2006 election featured a number of anti-immigration bills placed on the ballots in a number of states in the south and southwest, this had a tangible impact on Hispanic voters in subsequent elections.

The fact that current Republican candidates and party heads find the idea of arguing about birth control to be relevant to anything more than a slice of it's electorate in the year 2012 should tell you everything you need to know about the age of the electorate to which they are appealing. Rehashing arguments settled in the early 1960s cannot bode well on a party that already has difficulty appealing to female voters, a majority of whom have voted against Republican presidential candidates since 1988.

That said, 90% of politics is getting your supporters to show up, something Democrats are consistently bad at doing in off year election cycles. Whether it's uninspiring candidates, bad marketing, or both, 2010 is illustrative of how much influence this demographic still carries over national politics, even as it, frankly, continues to die off.

There are a lot of people who make this case a bit better than I do. You might start here, for instance.
In many ways, the schism among Romney, Santorum, and Paul more or less defines what being a Republican is in 2012. Paul accurately reflects the Libertarian wing of the party, Santorum accurately reflects it's evangelical wing, and Romney kinda sorta represents everyone else. Everyone who has fallen by the wayside (including Gingrich, who I guess you could fold into something called 'southern old money') folds neatly into one of these three categories.

The problem with this is, the first two groups are fringe but well defined and with a strong sense of (misguided) purpose. Paul supporters are guided by anti-government dogma, Santorum supporters are guided by religious dogma, clumsily wrapped in weak populism. Romney is an accurate reflection of what the Republican Party is at it's core, a terminally conflicted tone deaf vulture capitalist that feeds off the willful ignorance of supporters who accomplishes little but lining the pockets of himself and his friends at the expense of the electorate while flashing a fake plastic smile. And he's not Obama. And that has to mean something, right?

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