The State of the Republican Party
Posted by Ashish on 09.12.2012
Is Limbaugh serious when he says the GOP could split in two if Obama wins?
"If Obama wins, it's the end of the Republican Party." -- Rush Limbaugh, today on his radio show.
Right now, in the face of a polling shift that is showing Mitt Romney behind, particularly in the electoral college (the average of all state polls works out to 319 Obama, 219 Romney; 538's statistics model that predicts the electoral college has it Obama 315, Romney 223), many high profile conservatives are starting to make statements like this. Laura Ingraham and George Will both said similar things this week -- that if in an environment with 8% unemployment, Republicans can't beat the incumbent President, they might as well give up. Ingraham was particularly harsh, saying the Romney campaign has put its head in the sand and wants to ignore that they are losing. Sarah Palin even blasted Romney's campaign yesterday on Fox News. Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump both urged Romney this week to give more specifics and be more aggressive. Limbaugh went as far to say today that if Romney loses, the Republican party could split into two parties -- one more moderate, one more Tea Party-ish. Doing that, of course, would ensure defeat in a national election. I'm fully aware that Limbaugh said what he said more to push the Romney campaign into being more idealogical and to go harder to the right, not because he actually believes the party could split, but his comments are still worth exploring a bit.
There are certain things we have to acknowledge first that help us understand why things are the way they are electorally, many of which have nothing to do with the unemployment rate.
1. The Republican Party has moved to the far right on immigration reform, and in turn, lost the Hispanic vote. It wasn't always like this. George W. Bush, who was a moderate on immigration reform, did fine with Hispanics and, in turn, won states like New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado, and the election in 2000 and 2004. He remains the only Republican since 1992 to win the popular vote (he lost it in 2000, but won it in 2004). Without New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada, the path to 270 electoral votes for a Republican is VERY difficult and has little room for error, while the Democratic path has many options (Obama, for example, could lose Ohio, Florida, and Virginia and STILL get to 270).
2. The country has moved slightly towards the left on social issues, while the Republican party has moved to the right on social issues. In 2000 and 2004, Bush used social issues to his advantage. In 2012, as we saw from the conventions, it is the Democrats who are emphasizing gay marriage, women's rights, etc. as wedge issues. This is resulting in an increase in women supporting Democratic Presidential candidates, as well as an increase in young voters supporting Democratic Presidential candidates over issues like gay marriage. This has further hurt Republicans in key states like Colorado and Oregon (which used to be considered a swing state).
3. The Republican party's support is largely made up of white men. That is the group that is shrinking the fastest. Meanwhile, women and minorities, the largest groups that support Democrats, are both growing.
4. The Republican party has gone further right than they used to be in regard to unions and workers. This has resulted in Pennsylvania and Michigan no longer being swing states and has made Ohio a tough environment for Romney. In 2000 and 2004, Pennsylvania was considered one of the main swing states. Now in 2012, Romney is not even competing in Pennsylvania.
5. New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Oregon -- four states that the Bush campaign viewed as swing states and four states that total 48 electoral votes -- have been ceded by the Romney campaign in 2012. That is 48 electoral votes, more than the entire state of Texas, simply handed to the Obama campaign. Virginia, North Carolina, Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada -- a total of 49 electoral votes -- have gone from safe Republican in the Bush years to complete toss-up swing states in 2012 and states Obama won in 2008. In other words, Republicans have given up way too much ground on the national electoral map, leaving them with narrow routes to victory that require Florida and Ohio. Obama now essentially STARTS at 241 while Romney starts at 191. One guy needs 29 electoral votes to win, the other guy needs 79. Not hard to figure out who the map favors.
6. This is an issue NATIONALLY, not locally, as local communities have different demographics. That is why you can see Republicans have what amounted to a landslide in midterm elections in 2010, but struggle in a national Presidential election in 2012 when the fundamental economic position of the country hasn't changed all that much.
These are realities of the changing demographics in America that makes it difficult for a Republican to win a national election, particularly when he is forced to veer to the right to satisfy party demands. Can a Republican win a national Presidential election? Of course, but his margin for error is very slim when he is ceding minorities and women right when he starts.
All that being said, there is really no excuse for a Republican to lose to Obama in this environment. The fact that Romney is losing says a lot about him as a candidate and the job his campaign has done so far.
There is a mounting division in the GOP between moderate conservatives like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie -- guys who are more fiscally conservative, avoid social issues, are moderates on illegal immigration, and value compromise -- and more radical Tea Party types such as Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, and Sarah Palin -- people who take the far right position on every issue and view compromise as weakness.
These two sides of the party will eventually have a conflict. Anybody who has read the details of the Grand Bargain between Boehner and Obama know that Boehner himself (and Cantor) could not reign in the far right wing of his party over potential economic catastrophe during the debt ceiling negotiations. If Romney does lose in November, and that remains a big if right now, there will be a LOT of finger pointing by the far right who will say that McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012 are both examples of moderate Republicans who could not make the conservative case and thus lost to a more idealogical liberal in Barack Obama. Then there will be the other side that will say that part of the reason Romney lost was because he had to shift to far right positions on several issues to appease the Limbaugh crowd. Whether this ever results in a legitimate party split, as Rush Limbaugh warned about today, is another story, but it is an issue that will need to be resolved if Romney loses.
Guys like Jeb Bush opted not to run this time around, largely because they did not want to have to do what Romney did -- adopt far right positions in order to win the Republican primary -- knowing it would handcuff them in the general election. Will that problem still exist in 2016? Or will a much bigger problem exist -- two conservative parties? Romney, as we speak, is being pressured by the Limbaugh/Ingraham/Palin crowd to move further to the right.
Nobody can say for sure, but the fallout of an Obama win in November for the GOP will be massive. Much bigger than anything we saw in 2008, which many in the GOP blamed more on Bush than Obama. This time around, there are no excuses to lose to an incumbent who is presiding over 8% unemployment. Limbaugh's words today, meant to shock the Romney campaign into being more aggressive, will loom large over the rest of the election and its fallout.
To the Republican readers out there -- would you like to see the party split into two separate parties?