Dear Republicans: It’s Not About the Numbers, It’s About the People

Happy almost week after Election Day! There’s been blog silence around here lately. Work demands and my health (long recovery from cervical spine surgery that involves lots of pain and numbness as the nerves recover) have kept me away from the keyboard.

Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of my brother Ken’s death. I spent a lot of time thinking about him and the work he did to bring about a more just world for everyone. I suppose that’s why this New York Times article hit me particularly hard. There has been much wailing, gnashing of teeth, and rending of garments on the Republican side of the aisle since November 6 left them with – horror of horrors – a Democratic President, a slightly larger Democratic majority in the Senate, and a slightly smaller Republican majority in the House.

Donald Trump was so verklempt that he tweeted a call for a revolution, although he decided discretion was better than a visit from the Secret Service and quickly deleted it. There are online petitions calling for the US government to allow 20 states to secede peacefully. Alabama is, of course, on the list. Louisiana and Texas, the first to file, are getting close to the 25,000 signature threshold that will get a response from the White House. I expect a measured statement to be issued, once everyone stops giggling.

Anyway, back to the New York Times piece. It reflects somewhat more measured responses.

…the party’s first challenge, it seems in the immediate aftermath, is to find common ground simply in diagnosing the problem. Though some leaders argued that basic mathematics dictates that the party must find new ways to talk about issues like immigration, abortion and same-sex marriage, others attributed Republican losses to poor candidate choice, messaging missteps and President Obama’s superior political operation.

“We continually crank out moderate loser after moderate loser,” said Joshua S. Treviño, a speechwriter in George W. Bush’s administration who now works for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative group. He said Mitt Romney was part of a “pattern” of Republican nominees, preceded by John McCain, Bob Dole and George H. W. Bush, who were rejected by voters because of “perceived inauthenticity.”

By contrast, Ralph Reed, the longtime Republican strategist and chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said he would redouble efforts over the next four years to recruit women, Latinos and young people as grass-roots organizers.

“I certainly get the fact that your daddy’s Republican Party cannot win relying singularly on white voters and evangelicals alone — as critical as I believe those voters are to a majority coalition,” Mr. Reed said. “The good news for conservatives is there are many of those who have not always felt welcome in our ranks who share our values.”

It’s kind of sad when Ralph Reed, who started the Christian Coalition and has close ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and tax purist Grover Norquist, seems to be the only one talking about the need for grassroots outreach to the communities that voted overwhemingly for Democrats this time around. I doubt he’ll get much traction if the party continues to value fertilized eggs over actual women, fight against full equality for the LGBTQ community, demonize immigrants, and hate on poor people and pretty much anyone who isn’t a white, straight, Christian man. I suspect he’s only ahead of the game because he’s based in Georgia, which may very well be a battleground state in 2016.

Demographic trends are not in the party’s favor, but I don’t see much awareness of how to address that. Far right types are digging in their heels, saying there is no need to moderate their positions on social issues:

Can the Republicans shore up their weaknesses purely with tonal changes on issues like abortion, immigration and same-sex marriage, along with a repackaging of conservative fiscal policy? Will it require real moderation on social and economic positions that the Tea Party movement and the conservative base consider inviolate?
Or is an embrace of unyielding conservatism required to rally an electorate that has grown cynical about candidates who shape-shift after the primaries?

The debate is already roiling, with early markers laid in postelection news conferences and on the Sunday talk shows. On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Carlos Gutierrez, a Romney adviser and a commerce secretary under George W. Bush, blamed the loss “squarely on the far right wing of the Republican Party.”

Countered Gary L. Bauer, the socially conservative former presidential candidate, “America is not demanding a second liberal party.”

Rush Limbaugh went off about this very subject the day after the election:

“The usual suspects are out, and they’re saying, ‘Rush, we gotta reach out now to the Hispanics and reach out to the minorities, blacks.’ Okay, let me remind you of something. Let me take you back to the Republican convention,” he said. “We had Suzanne Martinez, female Hispanic governor, New Mexico. We had Condoleezza Rice, African-American, former secretary of state. Both of those people eminently qualified, terrifically achieved. They have reached the pinnacles of their profession. We had Marco Rubio. We had a parade of minorities who have become successful Americans. And they all had a common story: up from nothing, hard work, their parents sacrificed for them.”

“Now, why didn’t that work, folks? The answer to that is our future,” he continued. “Why didn’t it work? Some people say, ‘Well, Rush, we pandered.’ No, we didn’t pander. Everybody says that we need to reach out to minorities. We have plenty of highly achieved minorities in our party, and they are in prominent positions, and they all have a common story. They all came from nothing. Their parents came from nothing. They worked hard. They told those stories with great pride. Those stories evoked tears. It didn’t work.”

Other less crazy leaders in the party have reached somewhat similar conclusions:

The imperative to reach Latinos may put pressure on Congressional Republicans to compromise with Mr. Obama on a bill that provides illegal immigrants, or at least those who arrived in the United States as children, with a path to legal status. Senate leaders in both parties announced on Sunday that they were renewing negotiations to seek a deal.

But the Republicans will also have to overcome the tone set by Republican-led states that have enacted tough new measures aimed at catching illegal immigrants. Latinos will never vote Republican, said Mr. Treviño, the former Bush speechwriter, “if they think your political party just doesn’t want you as a neighbor.”

Republican officials said that meant aggressively recruiting Hispanic candidates like Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Senator-elect Ted Cruz of Texas, both sons of Cuban immigrants. And they said it required stressing common values, like opportunity, social conservatism and support for small business.

The point that all of them, except for perhaps Reed, are missing was summed up beautifully by a Facebook friend who responded to Limbaugh:

What Rush fails to realize is that when you say that you “paraded out minorities” or “we have plenty of highly achieving minorities in our party” (as if they are different from you) – you have missed the boat. Things will not change for the Republican party until they realize that minorities are no different than they are. Stop listening to Rush and start paying attention to an inclusive United States.

Exactly. There’s no recognition that they’re talking about actual individual human beings with lives of their own and all the joys and struggles those lives bring. There isn’t a single note of compassion or grace in all the talk of numbers and outreach and token minority candidates. There’s no call for building community power from the ground up. Until that happens, Republicans will have to be content with winning elections in red states and obstructing progress in the House of Representatives.

2 Responses to “Dear Republicans: It’s Not About the Numbers, It’s About the People”

  1. Del says:

    And yet they are able to argue so eloquently against the concept of tokenism and for “color-blindness.” Santorum/Bachmann 2016!

  2. Kathy says:

    Euuuw. Don’t even think that. You might accidentally conjure it.

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