White Person's Party. Old Person's Party. Whatever Happened to the Grand Ol' Party?

By Frum, David | Newsweek, November 19, 2012 | Go to article overview
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White Person's Party. Old Person's Party. Whatever Happened to the Grand Ol' Party?


Frum, David, Newsweek


How the Republicans got stuck in the past.

Don't tell me it was close. Don't blame it on Hurricane Sandy or Gov. Chris Christie. When economic conditions are as bad as they were in 2012 and the incumbent wins anyway, that's not "close." That's the challenger party throwing away a sure thing.

After-the-fact finger pointing and blame shifting will miss the bigger truth. The Republican Party is becoming increasingly isolated and estranged from modern America. In the quarter century since 1988, there have been six presidential elections. Only once--once!--did the Republican candidate win a majority of the popular vote, and then by the miserable margin of 50.73 percent.

We Republicans may console ourselves that we did win two big victories in the recent past, 1994 and 2010. But those were off-year elections, when 60 percent of America stays home, and those who do turn out are the wealthier, the older, and the whiter. Exit polls indicate that 34 percent of the 2010 electorate was over age 60; in 2012, only 15 percent of voters were older than 65. The Republican success in those elections only underscores the bigger problem: the GOP is rapidly becoming the party of yesterday's America.

The ratification of the Obama agenda will understandably enrage and depress conservatives. Yet if there is any lesson conservatives ought to have learned from the past four years, it is the danger of succumbing to angry emotion. We've had four years of self-defeating rage. Now it's time for cool.

Those who would urge the GOP to double down on ideology post-2012 should ask themselves: would Republicans have done better if we had promised a bigger tax cut for the rich and proposed to push more people off food stamps and Medicaid? Would we have done better if we had promised to do more to ban abortion and stop same-sex marriage? If we had committed ourselves to fight more wars? To put the country on the gold standard? Almost half of those surveyed on voting day said they wanted to see taxes raised on Americans earning more than $250,000. Exit polls do tend to oversample Democrats, but the tax result is consistent with other polling that has found that even Republicans would prefer to raise taxes on the rich than see cuts in Medicare.

Some combative conservatives may wish that Mitt Romney had talked more about the various plots and conspiracies they believed Obama to have launched upon the land: Fast & Furious, ACORN, Pigford, U.N. bike lanes, Obama's imagined plan to abolish the suburbs. But while this kind of angry talk may gain eyeballs on Hannity, it's not the stuff that swings undecided voters in Colorado and Virginia--especially not the women voters who formed 53 percent of the electorate on Tuesday; or the moderates, men and women, who formed 41 percent of it; or the nonreligiously observant, who formed three quarters of it. Only 34 percent of the vote Tuesday was made up of white men. The share of the vote that was made up of older, conservative white men must have been much smaller still. Fox Nation never was more than a very tiny slice of the American nation, and it was only sad self-delusion that ever led anyone to think otherwise.

And deep down, we all know it.

Yet if we know that extremism is dangerous, why do we see so much of it?

Victorious presidential candidates have always spoken to the entire country and promised to represent all Americans. "I ask you to trust that American spirit which knows no ethnic, religious, social, political, regional, or economic boundaries; the spirit that burned with zeal in the hearts of millions of immigrants from every corner of the earth who came here in search of freedom." That's Ronald Reagan, accepting the Republican nomination in 1980. The tragedy of the modern Republican Party is that it remembers Ronald Reagan's lyrics--the specific policies he recommended for the problems of his time--but has lost his music.

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