The Bigger Picture
Published on May 28th in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
I’m back in the states for the next couple of weeks so I would like to take this opportunity to share some of my observations about the current “state of America.”
Last week I predicted that a new Democratic majority would probably be in power for at least a generation because “America’s demographic trends reveal the numbers of urban black, Hispanic and younger, better educated white voters are growing.” Well a very large survey of more than 7000 American voters by America’s oldest and most respected polling firm, Gallup, was just released that both amplifies on and lends additional support to that argument.
To begin with, this recent Gallup Poll found that the percentage of voters who self identify themselves as Republicans had dropped to 21%, the lowest number in the past 25 years. Even more worrisome for Republicans was the fact that the same poll found that more than 53% of voters now self identify as Democrats. This, in a marked contrast with the Republicans, is easily the highest number for Democrats in a generation.
But social conservative Republicans still don’t seem to understand what has happened to the American electorate. They continue to claim that the way back to power for the Republican Party is to refuse to compromise with moderate Democrats and Republicans and instead focus on their opposition to abortion, gay marriage, gun control and increased federal spending. As such they are in alignment with Rush Limbaugh and their base of Republican voters but not with the independent and swing voters they need to win national elections. Congressional Republicans, particularly those in the House of Representatives, seem to be unaware that the ground beneath their feet has shifted.
The most telling numbers in the Gallup Poll are the ones that show Republicans losing significant support across all demographic groups except church going Christians, senior citizens and conservatives. There has been a decline in GOP support of 10 points among college graduates and 13 points among college graduates with postgraduate educations. Support has also declined by 9% among those who identify themselves as moderates; young people aged 18-29 and people making under $75,000 a year.
These are “toss-up” voter constituencies which have traditionally split their votes almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans in past elections, but are now tilting heavily Democratic. The Gallup Poll also reveals that another “big factor in the GOP's overall decline is the Democratic Party's consolidating its support among normally Democratically leaning groups” like liberals and those who don’t usually go to church.
The longer-term problem for establishment Congressional Republicans like Senator’s Richard Lugar and Lindsey Graham is that most of the Republicans that remain in the House of Representatives represent the most conservative elements of the party. They live in relatively safe election districts in conservative areas of the South and West and have very little concern for how their embrace of Rush Limbaugh’s ideological views will play to independent or moderate voters in other areas of the country.
These Republican congressmen identify far more with Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin’s rigidly conservative ideological wing of the Republican Party than they do with the more moderate and pragmatic establishment wing represented by Governors Charlie Crist and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Conservatives effectively control what is left of the national Republican Party and they are not making any secret of their disdain for those few moderate voices that still remain.
As a result some moderate Republicans have decided to throw in the towel rather than continue to swim upstream against the ever stronger conservative current. Senator Arlen Specter is a case in point. Facing almost certain defeat in a Pennsylvania Republican primary next year at the hands of a very conservative Republican from the House of Representatives, Specter switched his political affiliation to the Democratic Party. Rush Limbaugh and his “ditto-head” followers responded with derisive comments to the effect that Specter wasn’t a “Real Republican” so he wouldn’t be missed.
But establishment Republican conservatives like Senators Lindsey Graham and John Cornyn begged to differ because they knew the loss of Specter’s vote also meant that Republicans would no longer be able to muster the votes in the US Senate to filibuster Democratic legislation. Senator Cornyn who also heads the Republican Senate Election Campaign Committee had previously expressed support for Senator Specter in his Republican primary battle. Cornyn knew that while Specter’s more doctrinaire and conservative Republican opponent would probably win the Republican primary against Specter, he also had no chance of winning the General Election against any Democrat, most especially if that Democrat was an incumbent Senator named Arlen Specter.
This interesting bit of political reality neatly summarizes the dilemma for the rest of the national Republican Party establishment as well. Be they moderates or conservatives, established Republican political leaders are confronted with a shrinking base of conservative voters who are more concerned with the ideological purity of Republican candidates than with winning national or state elections.
These establishment figures privately voice their concerns about the continued erosion of support for Republican candidates among independent or moderate swing voters who abhor Limbaugh’s views, but none of them will dare to stand up to Rush and his ditto-heads for fear that they will be regarded as enemies by conservative Republican base voters. They need to recruit moderate Republicans to run for state and national offices in the north and costal regions of the United States if they are to have any hope of winning in the General Election, but those candidates must first win their Republican primaries against more conservative Republican opponents.
As a result, those Republican moderates like Tom Ridge, who would have a good chance of winning a general election campaign against a Democratic opponent have instead opted not to run for office. Dark days lie ahead for the Republican Party until such time as its leaders decide to stand up against its conservative ideologues. As it stands now Republican conservatives are winning the battles but the Republican Party is losing the war.