Las Vegas Sun

July 25, 2016

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J. Patrick Coolican:

Nevada Republicans might be model for securing party’s future

Gov. Brian Sandoval announced last week that he would allow higher taxes to continue rather than sunset next year, as scheduled, and there was a fair amount of kicking and screaming among Republican activists. But just wait a few years, and you might see Republicans around the country looking to their Nevada brethren as a model for how to remain viable in an increasingly unfriendly electoral environment.

Let me explain:

The Republican Party is in serious trouble as a national governing party. I’m not expressing an opinion about the party or its policies, but merely stating a fact of demographics.

The proportion of nonwhite voters, who vote overwhelmingly Democratic, increases every year by half a percentage point. In 2020, nonwhite voters, currently one-quarter of the electorate, will be one-third of the voting pool. Young voters, who are more secular and socially liberal than their parents, have for several consecutive cycles sided, when they’ve bothered to turn out, with Democrats.

(I reported about this in 2009,  and Jonathan Chait wrote an interesting piece on the subject recently in New York magazine, but Ruy Teixeira wrote the book on it in 2002.)

Republican office seekers seem strangely blind to these realities.

Most damaging isn’t necessarily the party’s policies or people, but rather, the strange contempt it shows for whole blocs of voters, embodied in Rush Limbaugh’s derision of a woman who believes contraception should be included on her health care plan. Just as important and less commented on, however, is the invective hurled at Hispanic voters, such as during the 2010 Nevada Senate campaign, when Sharron Angle used ads that depicted menacing young Hispanic men, on her way to a humiliating defeat.

A recent Fox News poll had presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney winning just 14 percent of the Hispanic vote.

Strangely enough, voters don’t like to be insulted. Although Democrats are indeed engaged in their own war on a certain set of voters — hurling mockery at bankers and oil executives and others of the 1 percent — the simple fact is there are far fewer rich executives than Hispanics.

It’s quite possible, of course, that a sluggish economy, rising gas prices or some international crisis will deliver the White House and Senate to Republicans, and that an impressive record in office will help the GOP recover their long-term viability.

But hope is not a plan, and it appears Gov. Brian Sandoval isn’t waiting around and hoping for the best.

In a number of key policy areas, Nevada Republicans, if only by default, have taken a more centrist path, despite the noisy, if disorganized activism of its Tea Party wing.

Sandoval’s announcement last week that he wanted to extend taxes scheduled to sunset, drew the ire of Beltway anti-tax emperor Grover Norquist.

But Sandoval’s move could neuter the power of Democrats and interest groups pushing for new taxes for education via ballot initiatives, and he might avoid a nasty fight during the next legislative session.

Note also, Sandoval and other Nevada Republicans have not offered aggressive anti-immigration legislation like in Arizona or Alabama. Doing so would be foolish in a state that is quickly on it way to becoming majority nonwhite, like California.

Hispanics’ portion of the population rose 1 percentage point per year during the past decade.

Sandoval also declined to declare war on public employee unions in the style of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who may be a hero to the talk radio right wing, but has also alienated centrist voters.

Sandoval is also helped by not having to deal with chaotic social and religious issues such as abortion or contraception, which are mostly off the table in libertarian Nevada.

Political parties, like species in the wild, must adapt to changing circumstances, or die. When the South went Republican after civil rights and union membership collapsed, the old Franklin Roosevelt New Deal Democratic coalition crumbled, leading to a series of losses in presidential elections. A political genius from a small backwater state saw it happening and changed the course of the party, guiding it back to a winning path.

His name was Bill Clinton.

Do the Republicans have a Bill Clinton?

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