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December 21, 2014

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ELECTION 2012:

Mitt Romney must find a way to unify a fractured GOP

Image

Associated Press

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, left, and his running mate, Paul Ryan, arrive at a campaign rally Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, in Mooresville, N.C.

GOP Convention: Aug. 27, 2012

Chairman of the Republican National Committee Reince Priebus speaks to delegates during an abbreviated session the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Monday, Aug. 27, 2012. Launch slideshow »

TAMPA, Fla. — For Republicans, this week’s national convention is a chance to put aside differences and give presidential nominee Mitt Romney a celebratory boost into the fall campaign.

But behind the harmonious images that Romney aides have worked hard to produce, Republicans face a frightening demographic future and a party civil war.

Polls show that the GOP is united today more by an intense desire to defeat President Barack Obama than by enthusiasm for Romney. The former Massachusetts governor made it to the nomination after a long and bruising primary contest that exposed continuing strains within the party.

In Tampa, social and religious conservatives plan to flock to events with Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann. Libertarians are rallying with Ron Paul. Newt Gingrich, one of several presidential contenders favored by Tea Partyers, is to preside over policy seminars for delegates.

Handling the ideological schisms will require a deft touch: Giving the microphone to a vanquished primary foe can backfire. Pat Buchanan’s “culture war” speech to the 1992 GOP convention, intended to fire up disillusioned conservatives, wound up turning off moderate voters and contributed to President George H. W. Bush’s re-election defeat that year.

This time, with an eye toward broadening the Republican Party’s appeal to undecided voters, Romney strategists have tried to keep the focus on health care and the public’s dissatisfaction with Obama’s handling of the economy. Pushed as far into the background as possible: strictly conservative stances that Romney adopted in the primaries on immigration and social issues, including same-sex marriage and abortion, that helped win over the GOP’s base.

But it is the collision of those issues — one of them brought sharply into focus last week by a Missouri U.S. Senate candidate’s incendiary comments about rape and abortion — and population shifts that may pose the biggest threat to the party.

Latinos, the fastest-growing demographic group in recent years, are put off by the party’s immigration stance. Younger voters reject its positions on abortion, same-sex marriage and attendant issues — such as contraception — which Democrats have used against the GOP for months. Republicans are becoming an older and whiter party in a nation that is becoming less so. Unless Republicans can broaden their appeal, the party’s viability ultimately could be in doubt.

Nowhere is the looming difficulty more apparent than among Latinos. The coalition that Romney will try to mobilize this November will be made up overwhelmingly of non-Latino whites (89 percent of Romney’s current supporters are white, according to national polling by the Pew Research Center). Looking ahead, the nation’s white majority will continue to shrink, according to demographers. Minorities, and particularly the Latino community, will make up an ever-increasing share of the population.

Romney attracted support from just 28 percent of Latino voters in a recent NBC-Wall Street Journal-Telemundo poll, with a plurality expressing negative feelings about the Republican Party.

“There’s no compelling evidence that the traditional conservative approach to the economy, or foreign policy, or education can’t be successful in a national election. But what’s absolutely clear is that the party needs to find a way to broaden its demographic base to even be heard on those issues,” said Dan Schnur, a former Republican consultant who directs the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.

“National Republicans have made a calculated decision, for about 20 years now, that it’s worth writing off states like California in exchange for a secure base of support in the South and in the near West (Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states). But California’s demographic makeup isn’t nearly as unique as it was in the 1990s,” Schnur said. “Romney’s advisers make the case that Latinos are much more interested in the economy than in immigration. That may be true. But if voters don’t think that you respect them as human beings, they’re not going to listen to what you have to say about the capital gains tax or start-up loans for small business.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American Republican from Florida, has described immigration as a “gateway issue” for reaching Latino ears and, ultimately, breaking a Democratic lock on their votes. But Jack Pitney, a former Republican aide who teaches politics at Claremont Mc­Kenna College in California, said the anti-illegal-immigration passions within the GOP’s voting base conflict with the desire of party politicians and strategists to reach out to Latinos.

Click to enlarge photo

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio speaks during a campaign event for Mitt Romney at Ronnow Elementary school, which Rubio attended from third through fifth grade, Saturday, July 28, 2012.

“The pattern is that a stand on immigration that’s good for winning a primary is bad for Hispanics in terms of winning the general election. I don’t know that there’s an easy way out of that,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily spell doom for the Republicans, but it does spell challenge.”

Schnur called immigration “a boulder in the middle of the road for the Republican Party. But there’s an opportunity there for Republicans, if they decide to take advantage of it. Marco Rubio tried to throw Romney a lifeline when he proposed his own version of the Dream Act this year. Romney might not have won the debate over immigration, but he would have at least been able to argue about the relative merits of two different versions of the Dream Act. And Romney let it go.”

Promoting leaders who can appeal to Latinos could be one way out for Republicans. As recently as 2004, President George W. Bush, who tried unsuccessfully to push an immigration overhaul through Congress and speaks passable Spanish, received about 40 percent of the Latino vote. But it is worth noting that, much as Bush could not persuade his fellow Republicans to buy into a plan, Rubio shelved his version of the Dream Act after making no headway among Republicans.

Similarly, the party’s conservative social policies are impeding the effort to attract a new generation of voters. The GOP’s no-exceptions anti-abortion stance has not budged for 30 years, as Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, the party’s platform committee chairman, reminded reporters last week. During the platform deliberations, only one participant broached the subject of Rep. Todd Akin’s remarks in Missouri about “legitimate” rape — a 22-year-old, socially conservative Santorum delegate, Jackie Curtiss of Alabama, who said afterward that her party’s unyielding attitudes on social issues are the reason that college-educated women are supporting Obama over Romney by a 2-1 margin.

Polling of voters ages 18 to 29 has shown that a majority hold views that run counter to the GOP stance on same-sex marriage and abortion rights. At the same time, the party’s image only makes it harder for Republicans to gain credibility with many young Americans, who hold an unfavorable opinion of the party, polls show. Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, says Republicans “should be worried about their long-term brand on these issues.”

“The younger generation is the most diverse in American history and thinks of itself as very tolerant and pro-diversity,” Levine said. “On top of that, you get the social issues, with the gay-related issues being the best example. It fits into a broader narrative that (Republicans) are basically the party of the older, white, straight people.”

Regardless of whether Romney, 65, wins the presidency, his candidacy is likely the last hurrah for his generation’s brand of Republicanism. Four years from now, or eight, younger figures will lead the debate about the party’s future.

If Romney is elected, Paul Ryan could be an influential Republican force for years to come. If the ticket falls short, intraparty warfare will likely resume right after the Nov. 6 election.

The battle lines are increasingly clear, both ideologically and generationally. Social conservative forces are led by former presidential contender Santorum, a favorite of evangelical Christians. Those pressing to broaden the party’s appeal include some of its rising figures, such as the Tea Party’s Rubio and Texas Senate hopeful Ted Cruz, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, libertarian Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, as well as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. All are scheduled to speak in Tampa. Their supporters will be cheering them on, ready to resume the fight.

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  1. Either way, Obama or Romney, we will have gridlock in Washington. What is needed is a change in the House and a Super Majority in the Senate. Romney is playing the race-card instead of talking about the economy. Obama is attacking Romney on Tax Returns and Bain Capital with little time on his policy.

    If you are following the polls, there are only 6 to 8 percent of voters who have not decided. The key to the election will be the independent voters, the voters not reflected in the national polls. Most likely they will be Obama voters on election day.

  2. Comment removed by moderator. Name Calling

  3. Sounds like a HOOT...

    like a huge Carny Convention!!!

    "social and religious conservatives plan to flock to events with Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann. Libertarians are rallying with Ron Paul. Newt Gingrich, one of several presidential contenders favored by Tea Partyers, is to preside over policy seminars for delegates"...

    WHOAH...
    Massively good time!
    Will Herman Cain be on hand with his act, too?
    I LOVE his comedic shtick!
    What kind of crap will Michelle Bachman make up?
    Will Rick Santorum break out a new sweater vest?
    Uncle Newtie, the disgraced former Speaker, 'giving policy seminars' to TeaNuts? PRICELESS!

    You R's sure know how to throw a party!

    When Willard Rmoney takes the stage...
    instead of confetti flying, he's going to 'make it rain'!
    "That's what I'm talking about! MONEY! ha ha ha! I. LOVE. MONEY! ha ha ha! That's what this election is about, my friends... Mo' MONEY! ha ha ha! Thank you! Thank you!"

  4. How can Republicans think it after being the experts in dividing people for decades, that that wouldn't come around to bite them.

    What was their alternative but to do what they did, change the rules of the game to suppress the delegates freedom?

    Now, if they follow their normal procedure, the brainwashing lies will be the next step to convince the rebels not to jump overboard and finding a real alternative in line with their thinking.

    That could be Libertarians for Ron Paul people, or maybe something else. It is their decision as to whether they sell out their ideology or hold firm.

    If they hold firm with the Republicans, we can see why we basically have a two party system. It will not be much of a revolution.

  5. mred,

    Thanks so much for that link. You really gave me a big laugh.

    Given the price of chickens today, it will take a chicken ranch to pay for one doctor visit. LOL

    How unreal!!! This shows a complete lack of knowledge of healthcare today.

    Is Sue Lowden working for the Chicken Ranchers Association? This idea should make them filthy rich...poor chickens!

  6. While both parties and most politicians stink to high heaven, and are just a bunch of liars, thieves, and self-serving trash, I believe the right is the lesser of two evils. The primary fact in this whole political "debate" is that the liberal agenda WILL bankrupt our country in a few short years. Then all of us will suffer immeasurably. There are over 100 million people on the public dole via welfare, food stamps, section 8 housing, and rebates/refunds/vouchers for everything under the sun. We simply cannot afford to keep this up. If the Democrats ar elected in the white house and congress, we will have a 20 trillion dollar deficit by 2016 and that will be the end of the USA.