Former Mass. Gov. Jane Swift's message to the GOP, "It’s the demographics, stupid." In this photo, Swift, left, speaks to Gov.-elect Mitt Romney in the governor's office during inaugural ceremonies at the Statehouse in Boston Thursday, Jan. 2, 2003. (Matt West/AP, pool)
It wasn’t Hurricane Sandy that propelled President Obama to victory on Tuesday, but the votes of millions of real life women from across the country who found the national GOP social agenda out of touch and offensive. They were joined by an overwhelming percentage of minority and younger voters, who find Republicans either indifferent or downright hostile to their concerns and priorities.
This new coalition, formed in 2008 and hardened during this election cycle, is bad news for the currently configured GOP nationally, but is even worse for Republicans in New England and Massachusetts. By January there will be only two Republican U.S. senators and two voter-elected statewide officials in New England. By comparison, in January 2003 we had one more than that total in New England governors alone.
It’s astonishing to realize it’s been 10 years since a Republican has won a November election for a congressional or statewide seat in the commonwealth (Scott Brown’s Senate victory came in a January 2010 special election). In fact, things have gotten so dire that unless the demographic trends change, a Massachusetts Republican will never win a major seat again during a presidential election year because of the high pro-Democrat turnout.
Brown and Richard Tisei were strong, popular candidates who both have long records of governing in a bipartisan manner. They raised a lot of money and ran smart campaigns against either unproven or politically vulnerable opponents. Yet they lost, dragged down in large part by the failure of national Republican leaders to soundly dismiss the most polarizing views regarding rape and immigration from GOP primary-nominated candidates like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock.
Brown and Tisei are, in fact, the post-partisans we’ve been waiting for. Throughout his entire campaign Brown touted his independence and Democratic endorsements. He distanced himself from the national GOP agenda. While Elizabeth Warren was Bill Clinton’s warm-up act at the Democratic National Convention, Brown had a brief, low-profile visit a week earlier when the Republicans gathered in Tampa.
In fact, the die may have been cast for Brown’s loss back in mid-August when reports of Akin’s comments on “legitimate rape” started attracting national attention. On Aug. 19, the GOP had a better than 60 percent chance of retaking the Senate, according to New York Times blogger Nate Silver. Going into Election Day the odds had plunged to 4.7 percent. Akin, Mourdock and other co-conspirators gave Warren and other Democrats the opportunity to remind female voters of the extreme elements of the GOP’s social agenda.
In his humble and uplifting acceptance speech, the president pledged to work with Republicans. Unfortunately — for all of us — when President Obama extends his hand across the aisle in January, Scott Brown and Richard Tisei won’t be there to accept it.
The aging of the GOP base is another concern. Pundits have long claimed that the youth vote is unreliable, but they once again came out for Obama in droves. The GOP has essentially lost a generation of voters, even recent college graduates with few job prospects.
I have taught a political leadership course at Williams College for the past several years and it is apparent that college students just don’t get the big fuss over reproductive choice and gay marriage. Even my Republican students appear not only blind to color and ethnicity, but sexual orientation as well. It’s just no big deal.
In an email on the day after the election one of my recent students, who has interned for GOP candidates, wrote “the social stuff has no future as an issue. Everyone my age I know, from all regions of the country and demographics, is at most extremely apathetic towards gay marriage/abortion.” Same-sex marriage advocates had been 0-32 at the ballot box until Tuesday, when they won gay marriage ballot questions in all four contested states.
There is an old political saw that says: “If you’re Republican at 20 you have no heart. If you’re a Democrat at 40 you have no brain.” While I have never agreed with that view, any sort of a conservative evolution is by no means guaranteed for young people today and as they become a larger slice of the electorate, we can’t afford to have 60 percent of them voting reliably Democrat.
Immigration is another problem. Conservative talk radio loves the Aunt Zeituni stories, but policies like self-deportation and the Arizona law are loser issues for Republicans. The vitriol exhibited toward immigrants by the party’s base has completely wiped out the GOP’s Latino voting bloc that helped elect President George W. Bush in 2000.
If you’re keeping score at home, Obama won 55 percent of the women’s vote, 60 percent of the youth vote, 71 percent of the Latino vote, 93 percent of the black vote, 73 percent of the Asian vote, and 77 percent of the gay vote. These are big spreads that will balloon into much larger raw vote totals as our nation gets more and more diverse.
All of this brings us to Mitt Romney, the most direct victim of the current GOP national platform. As I know from personal experience, Romney is focused on winning and accomplishing a specific task by using analytics and rational thought. As governor, he was further to the right of me and my GOP predecessors, Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci, but he was by no means a fire-breathing conservative.
While Romney is not an ideologue, he was forced to play one on TV due to the extreme views of the party base. He played that role throughout the endless GOP primary process, and was required to defend his conservative bona fides standing on the debate stage with Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum.
He finally won over the base, but only after they sampled every red-meat flavor of the month. By that point, Romney had very little chance of coming back and attracting more than a sliver of the younger, non-white vote.
He almost pulled it off though, with a masterful first debate. Call it Etch-A-Sketch if you want, but it was truly one of the greatest debate performances in modern political history. While he closed on Obama in the polls, there was just enough time left on the clock for the president to recover and gain a narrow popular vote victory.
Many Republicans, me included, are disappointed by the results on Tuesday. But unless the GOP wakes up to the 21st century, there will be plenty more slumped shoulders on election night for years to come.
- Cognoscenti: A Warning To Future Candidates: Wear Religious Blinders At Your Own Risk
- National Journal: The U.S. Has Reached a Demographic Milestone–And It’s Not Turning Back
- The New York Times: Demographic Shift Brings New Worry for Republicans
- Nieman Lab: The newsonomics of the newspaper industry as the Republican Party
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.