When former Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush suggested recently that “appealing to people’s fears and emotion” just might not be a winning political strategy for his party in 2012 and beyond, in part because, as Bush said, the GOP is handing Hispanic voters – the fastest growing block of voters in the country – to the Democrats for the foreseeable future. Given the state of GOP politics, perhaps it was predictable that Bush would be attacked from the right for his own stand on – you got it – immigration.
The attack poodle of the far right, Ann Coulter, branded Bush with the scarlet “A” for amnesty, a charge in today’s Republican Party about on par with being “soft on communism” in the 1950’s or proponent of “free love” in the 1960’s. Never mind that Bush’s analysis of the danger confronting the current and future Republican Party is entirely supported by real evidence in every direction you want to look.
Republican strategist and pollster Whit Ayres says the GOP cannot continue to lose Hispanic voters by a margin of 2-1, as the party did in 2008. “If we don’t do better among Latinos,” Ayres said recently, “we are not going to be talking about how to get back Florida in the presidential race, we are going to be talking about how not to lose Texas.”
But letting the noxious national debate around immigration drive the GOP over the nearest cliff is only the most obvious example of a national Republican Party that seems to be increasingly disconnected from minorities, young people, suburban women and, dare I say it, many moms and dads who aspire to send their kids to college as the surest path to a decent and economically secure life.
The hot button social issues that have driven the last few weeks of the Republican primary campaign has also included a great deal of talk about same sex marriage , an issue about which, all the evidences suggests, younger Americans care not a fig. Researach by Gallup in 2011 shows that Democrats and Independents have grown steadily more comfortable with the idea of same sex marriage, only the attitudes of Republicans haven’t moved. The percentage approving the idea among the 18-34 demographic is at 70%.
The religious liberty/contraceptive debate in the GOP contest has sharply increased the gender gap that has befuddled Republican presidential candidates for a generation. Barack Obama won the support of 56% of women voters in 2008 and with the help of Rush Limbaugh and a party strategy badly out of sync with where most Americans – especially women – live he is on pace to do even better this year.
Then there is education. Rick Santorum, a guy with three college degrees, launched a truly unusual line of attack on the president recently when he seemed to challenge the notion that most moms and dads should aspire for their kids to get a college education. Santorum dusted off the old line that college is a radicalizing experience for impressionable young people. Perhaps the former Pennsylvania senator is confused about college students wherem after all, his primary opponent, the “radical” Ron Paul, seems to enjoy some of his strongest support. In any event, Santorum is clearly on the wrong side of the mom and dad vote. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 94% of parents with kids 17 and under expect their youngsters to attend college. They also believe it is essential now days for a woman to get a degree and that college directly leads to a better life and higher income potential. And, of course, they are worried about paying for the education they deem essential.
“He wants everybody in America to go to college,” Santorum told supporters in Michigan in late February as he criticized Obama. Then Santorum warned that “some liberal college professor” would be “trying to indoctrinate them.”
“What a snob,” Santorum said of the president. “He wants to remake you in his image. I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his.”
The GOP message is both bad politics and bad marketing. It may be heartfelt ideology, but it simply doesn’t square with the concerns and aspirations of a very large swath of the electorate that the Republican nominee must appeal to in the fall and, as pollster Ayres points out, are key to Republicans remaining a national party in the decade ahead.
Apple Computer can sell almost anything these days because the brand and performance of its products are so universally accepted. Things don’t work that way with political parties. Ideas and how they are packaged matter in politics.