The Bigger Picture
Published on May 21st in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
Four months into President Obama’s first term as President of the United States the future looks pretty bright for the President and the Democratic Party based on their respective performances thus far in 2009. Unfortunately for me as a life-long Republican the same can not be said for the future prospects of the Republican Party. In fact, the farther into the future I look, the dimmer the Republican Party’s prospects get.
In the near term what remains of Republican Party leadership at a national level is a cadre of conservative legislators in Congress, radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, ex-House speaker Newt Gingrich and an assortment of State Governors like Former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
Most moderate Republicans in the US Congress have been swept out of office so the Republicans that still remain in Congress are from the more southern and rural areas of the US that voted for McCain and Palin. As a result they see no political advantage for themselves in working with Obama and have settled on a re-election strategy of catering to their base of older and more conservative voters by opposing anything President Obama and the Democratic Party proposes.
Rush Limbaugh’s radio audience consists of the same less educated conservative and rural voters, so he bashes Obama at every turn because he knows this is what riles up his audience and drives up listener ratings and advertising revenues for his radio show.
Then there are Governors like Sarah Palin, Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Minnesota’s Tom Pawlenty who are all trying to position themselves to run against Obama in 2012. They also see no political advantage in trying to cooperate with the new President, but know that blasting Obama’s policies is viewed favorably by those rural and Christian right wing voters who they hope will vote for them when they run for President.
In addition to seeking political gains with their base of conservative Republicans by being vocal critics of the Obama administration and fueling the anger of voters, the other thing these national Republicans’ strategies have in common is that they assume Obama’s proposals to address America’s foreign and domestic woes won’t be successful. As such they are not designed to expand the influence of the Republican Party nationally because they are based on a very narrowly focused and inward looking view of America.
I happen to believe that any political strategy which is based on assumptions that one’s political opponents will fail, is at the very least an extremely high risk strategy. If the CEO of a company were to propose a business strategy that was based on the assumption that their competitors’ products or sales and marketing efforts would fail, that CEO would be considered crazy, stupid or both by investors. Furthermore, fueling the anger of voters is NOT a strategy. In fact, Republicans in Congress and throughout the country who focus on frustrating President Obama’s attempts to address America’s foreign and domestic problems are at risk for retaliation by voters in the 2010 elections.
President Obama’s popular support continues to rival the high approval ratings that Democrats, Roosevelt and Kennedy and Republicans Eisenhower and Reagan enjoyed for most of their tenures as US President. When Obama’s popular support is coupled with the public’s continuing desire for change, an opposition strategy of “Just say No” is both foolish and unrealistic. The most likely result will be a repeat of the 2006 and 2008 elections, which were disastrous for Republicans at both the state and national level.
I find it ironic that so many national Republicans quickly jumped on the bandwagon in support of the “Tea Parties” initiated by anti-tax advocates in cities and towns throughout America on this past 15 April’s “Tax Day” (the date every year when Americans must pay their income taxes for the previous year). Ironic for two reasons; one, because many of these anti-budget deficit Republicans had repeatedly approved of and voted for the same budget deficits that Obama proposes when Bush was President and two, because these same Republicans still can’t read the “demographic” tea leaves.
If “Demography is Destiny” as I believe, then Republican’s longer range electoral prospects look even worse than their prospects in next year’s elections. The inability or unwillingness of many Republicans to read the demographic tea leaves means that the Republican Party is at grave risk of becoming a much smaller and less influential regional party rather than continuing to function as a truly national political party.
As evidenced by the dearth of Congressional Republicans from the coastal and northern regions of America, the geographical and ideological heart of the Republican Party now lies in the South and a few sparsely populated western states. Republicans have been losing seats in populous regions of America outside of the South for several reasons. Many moderate Republicans in Congress have retired rather than face defeat at the hands of more conservative challengers within the Republican Party while others have been defeated by strong internal challenges from conservative Republicans or Democrats buoyed by favorable demographic changes in their Senate and House constituencies.
In fact many political scientists and analysts are now making a strong case for a significant realignment of political power in the US because of the demographic trends which have been taking place for the past twenty five years. Based on my own analysis of population and voting data going back to 1992, I too see the emergence of a Democratic majority that is likely to last for generations.
America’s demographic trends reveal the numbers of urban black, Hispanic and younger, better educated white voters is growing while the less educated rural white voters Republicans appeal to is shrinking. The other trend shows better educated suburban voters who once formed the core of Republican Party have made a decisive shift away from it. So unless the Republican Party acts quickly to broaden its appeal beyond its shrinking core it will be consigned to the political sidelines for the foreseeable future.