Republicans: an endangered species

A few days ago I did the unthinkable: I watched Fox “News.” And as I listened to an old, white, Southern, anti-gay, anti-abortion conservative debate politics with another old, white, Southern, anti-gay, anti-abortion conservative, something struck me. These people are almost extinct. At this point they’re practically an endangered species. And if Republicans don’t act soon—if they don’t, as Charles Darwin might have said, adapt—they will become extinct, if not from changing social norms then from demographics alone.

For the sake of argument (sorry creationists), let’s assume that Darwin was onto something when he posited that any species that fails to adapt to environmental changes risks extinction and replacement by a fitter species. Applied to politics, this bodes badly for Republicans. Democrats have evolved on numerous issues since the ’80s, from immigration reform to gay marriage, but Republicans haven’t budged a bit since the Reagan years despite changes in the American political environment—an influx of minorities, more public support for gay marriage, less religiosity and so on—that seem to merit change.

On the contrary, Republicans increasingly cling to myths that more and more Americans are rejecting. This is a party that still expects individuals to “lift themselves up by their bootstraps” even if their bootstraps are so worn that there is no place left to grip, a party that labels any form of government intervention into the economy as socialism, a party that has a gag reflex to anything European (except Ayn Rand), a party that still believes in a God that is unambiguously pro-death penalty, a party that thinks supporting our troops means sending them into unsustainable wars that we cannot win and have very little interest in winning.

For Pete’s sake, modern Republicans have less moral qualms about war than about gay marriage.

It gets worse. The state of the GOP’s traditional base is no better off than the dwindling significance of its social issues. Democrats have maintained and grown a formidable coalition of educated whites, Catholics, racial minorities, young people and Jews over the years, but the Republican base has remained basically unchanged since the ’80s. It still consists of undereducated white males, senior citizens and good-ol’-boys who believe in God, the free market and the Founding Fathers without actually thinking about any of them.

Unfortunately for Republicans, as time goes on minorities are making up an increasing percentage of the American electorate, and older voters are dying off. By 2050, non-Hispanic whites are projected to make up slightly less than half of the population. Political scientist David Bositis nailed it when he noted on CNN that the “Republicans’ problem is [that] their voters are white, aging and dying off.” To summarize, there are two ongoing changes in the political environment that will challenge Republicans in the future: less public concern for traditional Republican social issues and an electorate that is rapidly changing in ways that favor Democrats.

Of course, I know as well as anyone else that conservatives don’t like change. They like conservation (except when it helps the environment). So despite all of the above developments—developments that will only solidify over the next few years—the Republican Party still clings to its traditional, dying social issues, still propagates policies that alienate Hispanics and women, and makes virtually no effort to broaden its rapidly dwindling base.

Republicans would be correct to think this all seems quite dire. It does. The challenges they face are almost as great as those faced by the countless animals who’ve been suffocated by oil or fished to endangerment due to anti-regulation legislation. Except, the GOP can adapt faster than those animals did.

So don’t swap the elephant for a mammoth just yet, Republicans. There is still hope. But this hope will require some change—and, to borrow our president’s slogan, it is not change you can believe in.

If you want to remain viable over the next two decades (or even during the next election cycle), you’re going to have to adapt. You’re going to have to stop alienating minorities and women and basically everyone who isn’t an old, affluent white male. How? Simple. So simple, in fact, that even a Tea Partier could do it.

Stop talking about social issues, and start focusing on the economy. I’ll say it again: Stop talking about social issues, and start focusing on the economy. No one wants to hear you guys blabber on and on about the dangers of marijuana and immigrants and sex and atheists and socialist, Muslim, anti-American, Kenyan-born terrorists who are actually capitalist, Hawaiian-born Christians with Kansan mothers. There’s a good reason Romney hasn’t focused on gay marriage or abortion or school prayer. Those things don’t excite Americans anymore. Why don’t they excite us anymore? Because, thank God, we aren’t as dumb as we used to be.

We’ve evolved. Even the Duke College Republicans have evolved. (It’s always painful to watch them wince as they listen to Sarah Palin attempting to form coherent sentences on Fox “News.”) Why haven’t you?

Focus on substantive issues such as how to cut the deficit or how to reverse dismal jobs numbers, and you will gain voters. Fail to adapt, however, and you’ll face a fate similar to that of the dodo bird. Except, no one will miss you once you’re gone.

You’re not as cuddly.


Share and discuss “Republicans: an endangered species” on social media.