This year, California Democrats picked up a supermajority in both houses of the state legislature, meaning they can govern with zero Republican input. This offers a glimpse of the course the national Republicans are headed unless they makes changes to improve the party’s brand and address the country’s changing demographics.
Republican Party brand
Democrats have been able to successfully tie the Republican brand to the most extreme voices in the party. Throughout the campaign, Republican leaders were reluctant to disavow crazy comments from the Limbaughs, Palins and Trumps of the world.
In 2010 and 2012, we have seen candidates increasingly cater to extremists in the party: this has led to Republicans losing easy Senate pickup opportunities and has damaged the overall brand of the party. This year, the Obama campaign blanketed swing state airwaves with an ad tying Governor Romney to Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who said it was “God’s will” if a woman was impregnated during rape. Todd Akin, who voiced opinions about what qualifies as “legitimate” rape, lost in Missouri in a race that should have been an easy Republican win.
President Obama won because he was able to maintain his lead among women, young voters, African-Americans and Latinos. When Republican pundits were predicting a Romney landslide days before the race, they were assuming these groups would not turn out as much as they did in 2008. In fact, they showed up in equal or greater numbers.
Nationally, Hispanics account for 55 percent of the population growth in the US and one out of every four babies born in the US are Hispanic. This year, Governor Romney lost Latinos (10 percent of the electorate) by 44 points, 71 percent to 27 percent. The Latino gap proved decisive in swing states such as Florida, Nevada and Colorado. Unless trends change, states such as Texas and Arizona could be competitive in future presidential contests.
President Obama won women by 12 points (55 percent to 43 percent), roughly the same margin as 2008. Governor Romney also lost African Americans (13 percent of electorate) by 87 points, 93 percent to 6 percent. He lost 18 to 29 year olds (19 percent of electorate) by 24 points, 60 percent to 36 percent.
The GOP’s problems with many of these groups have as much to do with tone as policy. Instead of stating a valid policy position (such as opposition to abortion or support for strong border controls), Republicans have appeared to go out of their way to antagonize groups that are imperative to electoral success. The discussion of contraception that dominated weeks of the Republican primary campaign caused tremendous damage in the general election.
Following the election, conservative radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin said the GOP lost because the candidate was not conservative enough, urging Congressional leaders to make no compromises when negotiating a deficit deal or comprehensive immigration reform. Donald Trump tweeted a call for “revolution” and questioned the validity of the vote. Going forward, these statements need to be repudiated by leaders in the party. The Republican Party should no longer be defined by fidelity to statements by people who go out of their way to make extreme statements that distort the values of conservatism.
Steve Schmidt is vice chairman of Public Affairs at Edelman and was a senior advisor to John McCain’s 2008 Presidential campaign.
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