A year ago, when the Republican National Committee’s searing 2012 election postmortem was released, it was possible to imagine, for a fleeting moment, that the GOP might finally grasp why it has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus’ act of public self-flagellation showed that he was ready to ask tough questions of a party that has alienated the fastest growing demographic segment of voters in this country — Latinos — and failed to woo younger voters, women and gays.
But Priebus’ call to action had as much effect on his party as Hillary Rodham Clinton's infamous reset button had on U.S.-Russia relations. That was apparent at last weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference, where speaker after speaker acknowledged the challenges presented by the country’s changing demographics, but seemed unable to acknowledge anything more profound than an “optics” or “messaging” problem.
The fault, dear GOP, is not in your optics, but in your policies.
A lack of immigration reform and sometimes vicious rhetoric about illegal immigration have turned off Latino voters. Republican federal budget proposals that slash programs for poor families, and idiotic remarks about rape and contraception by male Republican candidates have turned off women. A persistent stance against gay marriage, despite a major cultural shift, has turned off younger voters and repelled gays.
I pulled up the Priebus report, the “Growth and Opportunity Project,” and was struck by how conciliatory and reasonable he was, compared with some of the high-profile Republican voices at CPAC, particularly Ann Coulter, who participated in a debate on immigration.
The juxtaposed words of Priebus' report and Coulter — an imaginary debate, if you will — illustrate why the GOP is going to be struggling with these issues for the foreseeable future. The Priebus report represents a GOP in touch with its better angels. Coulter may be coarse, but she speaks for the Republican mainstream. My proof? Look what happened to Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, once described as the GOP's savior, after he suggested that immigration reform should involve a path to citizenship. This, more than anything else, is probably why Democrats will continue to win large majorities of the Latino vote, and possibly the presidency, for years to come.
Here's how the GOP is at war with itself on immigration:
Priebus report: “Public perception of the party is at record lows. Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country. When someone rolls their eyes at us, they are not likely to open their ears to us.”
Coulter: “Everything gets back to immigration. We are talking about bringing in 1.2 million poor people per year here, that’s going to be sustaining Social Security? That’s going to be sustaining Medicare? On top of that, something I think people haven’t really noticed — well, certainly they have noticed it on MSNBC, where they are celebrating the browning of America, but if you don’t celebrate it, you’re a racist. It is going to be people who are not from America who are in theory going to be funding older white people who are getting to their Social Security and Medicare age. I don’t think that can last. At some point, they’re gonna say, ‘Screw it.’ ”
Priebus report: “If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence. It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies .… As one conservative, tea party leader, Dick Armey, told us, ‘You can’t call someone ugly and expect them to go to the prom with you. We’ve chased the Hispanic voter out of his natural home.’ ”
Coulter: “You have the Democrats who want more immigrants, particularly illegal immigrants, because they need brand new voters, just warm bodies, more votes. Amnesty goes through and the Democrats have 30 million new voters, and I don’t think Republians have an obligation to forgive lawbreaking just because the Democrats need another 30 million voters.”
Priebus report: “But if we are going to grow as a party, our policies and actions must take into account that the middle class has struggled mightily and that far too many of our citizens live in poverty. To people who are flat on their back, unemployed or disabled and in need of help, they do not care if the help comes from the private sector or the government — they just want help.”
Coulter: "I mean you have the government often subsidizing bad behavior, you have Hollywood rewarding bad behavior. But there’s also an overwhelming cultural sense, I think it is a political correctness … to end shaming. No. Shaming is good. It’s almost a cruel and selfish thing, for lack of a better term, for the upper classes, for the educated, for the college graduates to refuse to tell poor people, ‘Keep your knees together before you’re married.’ That will solve so many of life’s problems.”
Priebus report: “The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue. Instead of driving around in circles on an ideological cul-de-sac, we need a party whose brand of conservatism invites and inspires new people to visit us.”
Coulter: "Apparently in the '50s, all Americans littered a lot. And who started a campaign shaming Americans out of littering, with the ‘Keep America Beautiful’ ads? It was actually the corporations themselves …. that got together and funded these ads to shame Americans out of littering. Now, at all these national parks in California where the littering is coming from recent immigrants — 'Oh, we can’t suggest that any one group is doing it. Let’s just shut the park.' And that’s what they’re doing. This is always the solution now: 'Oh, we don’t want to stigmatize anyone.' No. Stigma is good. They stigmatized smoking out of existence. Now we’re stigmatizing unwed motherhood, littering, running across the border illegally.”
Priebus report: “We must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all.”
Coulter: “You gotta vote for the Republicans one more time and make it clear [to them]: If you pass amnesty, that’s it, it’s over, then we organize the death squads for the people that wrecked America.”