The GOP’s generational collapse could be real

Can Republicans win her vote? (Source: White House photographer Pete Souza)

I was in Boston over the weekend, at a gathering of high school students — including a lot of kids from the North Country — who were staging a model United Nations.

The gathering was enormous and it was breathtakingly diverse, a babble of languages, a crazy-quilt of ethnicities and skin colors.

The young people were talking about issues that are shaping the planet’s future, from water shortages to climate change to the vulnerability of civilians in war zones.

All of which got me thinking about the next chapter in American politics.

People have been predicting the demise — or at least, the long term irrelevance — of various political parties for a long time.

During the Bush years, Karl Rove famously forecast that Republicans would soon establish a new permanent majority.

The concept then was “realignment.”  Conservatives would effectively end the leftward tidal movement of American history that began in the 1930s with the Great Depression and the New Deal.

Hugh Hewitt, the right-wing pundit and author, published a widely-reviewed bestseller in 2006 called “Painting the Map Red: The Fight to Create a Permanent Republican Majority.”

What followed a few months later, of course, was a Democratic resurgence that led to dramatic Republican setbacks in 2006 and 2008.

With the exception of the tea-party fueled victories of 2010, the last six years have been desolate ones for the GOP.

Even conservative successes — holding the House and gaining governor’s seats — have come with significant asterisks.  Republicans tend to win smaller, less populous, less productive states than Democrats.

And overall in 2012, House Democrats won considerably more votes than Republicans.  The GOP held its majority only because of aggressive and skillful gerrymandering.

So the question now is this: are the Republicans in as bad a shape as they appear?  Or is this another temporary wrinkle, similar to the ones Democrats were facing in 2004?

I’m leaning toward the former:  I think the GOP is in serious danger of permanently defining its brand in ways that will alienate not just Hispanic, African American and Asian voters, but also young urban white professionals.

Democrats, meanwhile, are cheerfully tapping into the complex, vibrant ferment that is the New America.

Those kids at the model UN conference were turned-on, smart, productive and ambitious. They will be the makers, the job creators, the innovators.

And according to the best demographic and political data available to us, the chances are they will vote overwhelmingly Democratic.

In a way, this is by design.  Republicans willed it so.

The GOP has, for the better part of forty years, anchored itself as the traditionalist party, identified by loyalty to a strict constructionist view of the US Constitution, by fealty to a broadly Judeo-Christian ethic, a traditionalist view of family, and by direct appeals to a largely white racial voting block.

The GOP has also branded itself as a rural institution, adopting the language, cultural aesthetic and conservative social values that are stronger in America’s small towns and in the South.  It has also been the party that positioned itself as the defender of gun rights and gun ownership.

The problem is that all of those markers represent a loyalty to the past, to what you might call the status quo ante.

As we’ve noted before, all the core Republican demographics — whites, rural people, church-going Christians, gun-owners — are declining as a percentage of voters, while all the core Democratic demographics are exploding.

These aren’t mere abstractions.

Democrats already hold deep systemic advantages in American politics, particularly in presidential races, which appear certain to grow by 2016.  States that were once red are turning purple.  States that were purple are trending blue.

Conservatives clearly aren’t sure what to do about these facts.

Just last week, William Kristol, founder of the Weekly Standard, wrote an essay lauding the GOP for being a institution that throws itself on the railroad tracks of change and social evolution.

He quoted William F. Buckley Jr., who once said that conservatives should “stand athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”

The problem is that, increasingly, the fastest-growing groups of Americans see Republican positions not as cautious and conservative and rooted in bedrock American values, but as morally indefensible, alienating and, not to mince words, creepy.

When Republicans talk about electrifying the border fence and describe undocumented immigrants as a scourge, that may play well with the base, or with Fox News viewers, but it alienates just about everyone else.

When they talk about “legitimate” rape and argue against the availability of contraception, it falls into a hardening pattern that is, in a word, unsettling.

When conservative groups oppose even modest gun control measures like background checks and limits on the ownership of military-grade weapons, that sends a visceral message, not merely a political one.

When right-wing media outlets broadcast dog-whistle racialist arguments — talking about “Chicago-style politics,” drumming up fears about ACORN and the Black Panthers and stolen elections — that just doesn’t play well outside of white enclaves.

Perhaps most importantly (and I think the GOP still doesn’t grasp how big this is), a fast-dwindling number of  Americans want to align themselves with a party that hates gay people, even in the “love the sinner, hate the sin” kind of way conservatives espouse.

The fact that Republicans are now considering holding up an immigration bill because they want gay immigrants to be treated differently than straight immigrants is, in political terms, self-defining.

Bluntly, the danger for the GOP is that for a generation of young people the conservative movement is branding itself as a toxic movement of angry old finger-waggers.

Already in 2012, Barack Obama won by landslide margins with voters under the age of 40.  Mitt Romney only won by similar, big-number margins with voters over the age of 65.

It goes without saying that conservatives desperately need the current crop of Democrat-voting young people to evolve (fairly rapidly) into the next generation of grown-up, mortgage-holding, married and economy-worrying Republicans.

They need these voters to see the GOP as the logical “home” for voters who care about jobs, the deficit, and defense.

But if conservatives stand their ground as the movement that thinks gay people are aberrational and continues to talk in bizarre ways about human sexuality, and in fear-driven ways about Hispanics and African Americans, that’s just never going to happen.

I don’t think Republicans have very long to sort this out.

When Lyndon Johnson pushed through the Civil Rights Act in 1964, he was aware and honest with himself that “the risks are great and we might lose the South.”

The GOP, in standing its ground on traditionalist issues should be equally honest with itself about the potential for losing an entire generation of young Americans.

74 Comments on “The GOP’s generational collapse could be real”

  1. The Original Larry says:

    Young people may be “great” and they may also be intelligent, but they are largely uneducated, uninformed and will follow anyone who forgives their student loans or legalizes marijuana. Maybe all the capable, intellectual 20 year olds are busy with OWS and I only get to meet the drones trying to hold down jobs in the real world.

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  2. Mervel says:

    I just don’t have a problem with them Larry. Kids today smoke less weed than my generation did, in fact they are pretty levelheaded when it comes to drugs and alcohol. I think we like to paint them as this horrible bunch but really compared to previous generations they are pretty traditional in how they act. They even have fewer out of wedlock births and wait longer before they have sex than kids did 20 years ago.

    Competition is just awful compared to what it was for us and College is far far more expensive than when we went, in real terms adjusted for inflation, jobs are really tough to find right now. I would be in favor of the government forgiving some student loan debt, it would be a good investment and help these guys become more productive quicker.

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  3. hermit thrush says:

    i’m in my mid-30’s. the kind of elitism on display from the likes of rancid and larry is just staggering.

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  4. Ken Hall says:

    Mervel, Per your comments: “Take the F-22 fighter jet. The F-22 was designed to fight an air war over Europe against the Soviet Union. OK that threat probably is not there, but we didn’t stop building any of them. Same goes for both the b-1 and b-2 bombers. The b-2 stealth bomber (not the stealth fighter the f-117a) but the bomber is utterly worthless, built for the cold war, was never used in Iraq, it has no purpose yet we still built all of them. It applies to all government programs, not just the military”.

    I recognize that this tread has naught to do with military weapons systems nor US Government procurement programs; however, as I believe I recall you taking Brian M. to task for what you have perceived as prevarication with respect to the veracity of his posts; therefore, I feel compelled to take you to task for same.

    A few minutes of foraging about the I-net would have led you to the following information:
    1. F-22 initial production quantity desired about 750; built 195
    2. B-1 initial production quantity desired about 240; built 104
    3. B-2 initial production quantity desired about 165; built 22

    The F-22 is primarily an air superiority interceptor not a ground attack or bomb delivery platform; both B-1 and B-2 have been used in combat operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and other US designated hot spots.

    I am not a defender of the copious quantities of dollars that are poured into the military’s weapon systems programs, having observed (worked in) weapons system acquisition programs for nearly 30 years; however, it is my conviction that the real high cost drivers are the contractors, ostensibly hired to build such at a reasonable profit, who are out of control not out of control bureaucrats.

    As for nothing, I am reading into your statements, good ever being accomplished by the Government have you ever visited the Locks and Power Dam on the St Lawrence Sea Way near Massena, driven on the Interstate Highway system, ., ., . or flown out of a major Air Port?

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  5. The Original Larry says:

    Pointing out the obvious isn’t elitism.

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  6. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Do any of you actually know any “young people” in the 16-25 age group? I can think of 25-30 I know fairly well. Maybe 10% are what I’d consider level headed. The rest are just like I was at that age- they know everything, anyone trying to tell them different is stupid and things are supposed to go they way they want- no excuses accepted. It’s the same now as it was in my day. We had “The Counter Culture” IIRC. You read High Times and Easy Rider and listened to Zeppelin and watched Belushi and Akroyd on SNL and you knew EVERYTHING. The 80’s were a big dope slap for most of us. We watched people lose their homes back then too, or have you all forgotten 24% mortgage interest rates? We also watched 52 Americans held hostage for better than a year. The Peanut farmer that we all believed in failed us, he made our nation a laughing stock. Suddenly a guy named Regan showed up and we woke up. We didn’t riot and crap on cars and smash store windows, and we darn sure didn’t complain about global corporations while getting the latest news from MSNBC on out china made laptop produced by a multinational corp while wearing clothes made in Pakistan and $300.00 sneakers made in Taiwan. These “young people” may be more sophisticated in ways than we were, but when they get the dope slap the result will be the same- if that dope slap ever comes along.

    The GOP is not going to appeal to “young people”. Not until they come up with a message and messenger that are something other than the status quo. For whatever reason most people simply can’t grasp $16 trillion in debt and what it means. They can’t grasp what the Feds devaluation of our currency is doing to us. They seem to believe we can spend our way into prosperity. I don’t know what the GOP has to do to regain ground, but they aren’t doing whatever it is they need to. I truly believe that the media plays a large part in this and is effectively acting in concert with the liberal Democrats. I believe if we had an objective media we’d see a lot of heads roll in gov’t, a more informed population and a better economy. I also think the GOP would still be shooting itself in the foot.

    Mervel, forgive student loans? WHY?!!! I don’t mean to be a hardnose, but Big Education has sold these kids a bill of goods for the last 30 years or so. The kids fell for it, they took on the debt, it’s their problem, not mine. We paid every cent of my wifes student loans and we’re paying off some of the kids now too. Forgiving that debt is not the answer. The answer is for those people in debt to start asking themselves why the job market is so tight? Where are the jobs and why are they going away instead of coming here? What is the cause of that? Then maybe the dope slap will come and they’ll figure it out and start demanding gov’t at the State and Fed level work to attract business and jobs instead of taxing the crap out of anyone with 2 nickles to rub together.

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  7. mervel says:

    Ken; no look at the total cost of the F-22 per plane and total cost. The B-2 was not really used in Iraq, the B-1 and the f-117 were. The bottom line is not how many were made, the bottom line is the total insane cost, and the fact that they made even ONE of them.

    It is a scam. The F-22 was built as a weapon to fight the Soviet Union, it started in the mid 1980’s, that is how long they drag these systems out.

    All government programs follow this same model once you start them you can’t stop them.

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  8. mervel says:

    The military in particular is a scam and a rip-off and it is worse than other government programs because it kills people and hurts our liberty. We need a military about 1/2 the size of our current one, realistically I am not being some sort of dreamy nut on this, we would still spend more on military spending than any other country on the earth.

    The question that we need to ask Peneta and all of the other apologists is why if the Chinese and al-quida are so dangerous are we so inefficient in our spending compared to them, I mean they must be so efficient!

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  9. mervel says:


    Yes I would forgive some student loans; it would really be the best “stimulus” spending we could do. They got ripped off at the encouragement of our government. We paid soooo much less than they did in real terms.

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  10. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Mervel, if you forgive one student loan you have to forgive them all. And if you do that you are into free college for everyone. How do we pay for that?

    The military is not a rip off because it kills people. That’s just part of the deal. No one likes it, but that’s life. We surely can cut costs in defense, but it’s not wise at all to gut the military. We’ve seen what happens time and again. Gut the military, unemployment shoots up, we fall behind, something happens, we spend 3x as much and take 10x as long trying to rebuild. I’m all for shutting down the bases in Europe and getting out of the middle east. But if we leave the far east North Korea WILL invade South Korea and probably make war on Japan. China might well invade Taiwan. Do we want that? There certainly are American interests at stake here.

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  11. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Mervel, the absolute best stimulus you could create would be some serious tax cuts. Cut the income tax, capital gains tax, excise taxes, fuel taxes, etc. That’s money in everyones pocket right now.

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  12. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Forgot to add- those people ahving problems paying their student loans…well, they simply aren’t paying them. Why worry about debt forgiveness when the debtors have abandoned any effort at paying the debt?

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  13. Paul says:

    I am lucky. I get to work surrounded by many of the most smart and talented young people that have ever graced the earth. I am very optimistic for the future. That is one of the reasons that I was originally attracted to the republican party, to me they were a more optimistic party. It seemed like the democrats were always complaining about everything. Now it seems like for many it is the other way around. There are too many republicans now that think the world is going to hell in a hand-basket. If they can’t change that attitude their future might be pretty bleak.

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  14. Mervel says:

    I think that is a good point. At one time I kind of forgot how the Republican Party was all about the future, all about creating economic opportunity, and frankly a little polyanna about some of our problems. But the Democrats used to mainly be about saying the US was a horrible place going to hell, and yes it seems that dynamic has totally reversed!

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  15. The Original Larry says:

    Yeah sure, forgive the student loans and chalk it up as another free ride some rich guy can pay for. People have to be really stupid to borrow $100K (or more) for an “education” that’s going to net them a job at Starbucks. They must be the children of people who took $500K mortgages on houses worth $100K. Yeah, I know, it was the banks, it was Wall Street, it was Big Education, and on and on and on. What it is, is people who take no responsibility for their actions and look for others to bail them out.

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  16. mervel says:

    Well it is just an idea. But you could target it to degrees we really need. For example I think we should pay for all medical education and not allow med schools to charge any rates not set by the government, this is the path toward having a lower cost health care system. It is why French Doctors can work at salaries 1/2 of their US counterparts, they don’t pay for med school and they don’t have huge liability insurance.

    We need some new ideas from the GOP, that was the case when the GOP was winning, now I have not seen any new ideas from them.

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  17. Paul says:

    Many state universities offer an excellent education at a reasonable price, that is a benefit of living in a place like CO (where I was fo many years) where you can go to CSU or CU for a very reasonable price as a resident. Use education as a way to sell your state. Low taxes a good education and mountain fun to boot. Not a surprise that folks want to leave here and go to a place like there.

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  18. Paul says:

    TOL, the world needs ditch diggers right?

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  19. Paul says:

    So Larry you have told us what caused a problem (or two) what is your solution?

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  20. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Mervel I’ve said for years that if higher education was so important then why don’t we have low cost alternatives to the present system? If health care is so important then why don’t we have a low cost system? We could have low cost education and healthcare if we wanted it. As socialist as it sounds you could have low cost, bare bones colleges and low cost healthcare. Everyone would be employed through the state at middle income levels after being educated and certified by the state. A doctor or professor would then be in a secure position making maybe $65-70K a year. Reform the system so malpractice and liability insurance aren’t required.

    You go offer that option up and see how many takers you get.

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  21. Mervel says:

    Even state universities are much much more expensive in real terms than they were 25-35 years ago. They are still often a very good deal in comparison to other options, however many private schools today have high sticker prices but very few students pay that price, most get large direct aid from the school itself. So its hard to know real pricing sometimes.

    However Rancid, I am not sure about your idea I think it has some good points to it, I think the GOP needs to step up with some of those kind of ideas. The GOP seems to say today, well nothing needs to change, health care is fine, let the private market handle it and we don’t need any changes, education is fine let the private lenders handle it no changes, immigration is fine no changes just tighten the border and on and on, they don’t seem to have any real substantive new ideas and I think that is what attracts younger voters.

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  22. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    We need a new military wing that does more useful stuff. Like, for instance, a special ops group that sneaks into a country in the dead of night immunizes children, and feeds the malnourished leaving piles of warm blankets behind to cover their tracks.

    Or maybe a a combat agriculture battalion that can drop in behind enemy lines, fix irrigation systems, prune fruit orchards, plant vegetative buffers and then make their way to a pre-arranged pick up location where they escape by submarine.

    What about drones that instead of firing missiles bury houses where suspected terrorists are hidden with several tons of wheat, corn or rice?

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  23. mervel says:

    Or how about take all of those military technology brains and engineers; sitting around thinking about how best to build the next generation missile or stealth bomber and re-direct them and the trillions used to build those things; to find a way to go to mars and establish a true space exploration program.

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  24. mervel says:

    Plus we could possibly hire some young people to do that; instead of giving them jobs to go kill people in countries far away from the US and who have never attacked us. Plus working on a huge space exploration program will not bring young people home totally screwed up from killing innocent people all over the world.

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