04 December 2012

Reports of the Republican Party's demise have been greatly exaggerated -- by Republicans

Writing in Time, Republican consultant Mike Murphy may have won the prize for post-election panic." The Republican brand is dying," Murphy writes of the party that still controls the House of Representatives and for whom control of the Senate remains within reach. Murphy can't see the forest for the mountain. After losing two Presidential elections in a row, and getting a minority of the popular vote in five of the last six, Murphy despairs, dismissing the likelihood of success in 2014 as no more than a "dead-cat bounce." Only the Presidency matters to Murphy, even though the GOP, as presently constituted, is well suited for the role it currently plays, and quite possibly prefers, as legislative check to executive will.  But Murphy fears that they can't play that role much longer if the demographic trends that favor Democrats in presidential elections take hold at the district level. Like many another panicky Republican, demographic analysis frightens him, but it also leads him to misunderstand what happened last month.

Murphy believes that Republicans are handicapped at the national level by the angry old white men of the Religious Right. He anticipates a defining showdown, not between "moderates" and "conservatives," but between "a more secular and modernizing conservatism" and a conservatism that "offers steadfast opposition to emerging social trends like multiculturalism and secularization." If the Republicans are to have a future as a national party, Murphy warns, they must put aside "most social issues" (he doesn't identify the exceptions) in favor of promoting "a wide-open opportunity society that promises greater economic freedom and the reform of government institutions like schools that are vital to upward social mobility." As I said, he doesn't understand what happened last month.

Not many people do, it seems -- and that includes gloating Democrats. They especially have a lot staked on the image of Republicans as superstitious bigots, and Murphy seems convinced that growing numbers of voters perceive his party that way, young people and Hispanics especially. He hopes that, once the GOP convinces people that it isn't the party of prejudice and reactionary religion, its economic message will catch on rapidly. He doesn't understand what happened last month. Mitt Romney was not perceived as a bigot who hated people for their skin color. He was not perceived as a religious reactionary, since his own faith is still regarded as little more than a cult by many Americans. Romney lost because he was perceived as a contemptuous rich guy -- because he was thought to despise the poor, or at least those who depended on the government, for any reason, for their survival. You could not caricature Mitt Romney as a klansman or a witch burner. He stood for the rule of the wealthy, for their exemption from accountability to the rest of the people (as workers or voters), for "economic freedom" as a principle higher than human well being -- and that was what people voted against last month. But Murphy supposes that if Republicans say they love gays and Hispanics, yet still say screw the poor -- and this is what the poor hear, whatever Republicans think they're saying -- and win presidential elections. And he seems to think that without the Presidency, Republicans are powerless or irrelevant. They are far from that today, but they might well get closer to that if they follow Murphy's advice and assume that cultural issues are their only problem.

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