Republicans have a choice. They can blame their messaging. Or they can blame their message.
Last night, with the reality of Obama’s reelection coming into focus, Bill O’Reilly spoke from his heart.
“The white establishment is now the minority. And the voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You are going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama. Overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama’s way. People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things? …
“The demographics are changing,” he said. “It’s not a traditional America anymore.”
This is a remarkable statement, not only because it reflects spooky indignation and mild panic, but also because Bill O’Reilly is basically right. Obama won tomorrow’s electorate by a landslide and won. Romney won yesteryear’s electorate by a landslide and lost decisively.
White men are now a clear minority of the electorate. Old Christian white men — the bread and butter of the GOP — hardly comprise one-third of voters. Americans under 30 broke for Obama over Romney 60-37. Hispanics voted 71-27. Asians went 73-26. Blacks went 93-6. Women went 55-44 for the president. Even though President Obama won a smaller share of the white male vote than Michael Dukakis in 1988, he will win three times as many electoral votes as Dukakis did.
This isn’t O’Reilly’s idea of America anymore. And it will look increasingly less like O’Reilly’s America with every passing election.
The GOP has a choice now. It can can run in the face of these demographic changes or it can embrace them with a new sense of priorities. Rather than mock minorities who tend to be lower-income for “wanting stuff,” maybe Republicans should spend some time figuring out what they want.
Here are three ideas.
(1) SOCIAL MOBILITY. Hispanics and blacks and young single women really are more likely to “want stuff” from government. It’s not because they’re minorities. It’s because they’re overwhelmingly more likely to be middle-class or low-income. The GOP’s mantra is cut income taxes, cut income taxes, cut income taxes. That’s a good, straightforward pitch to the top 10% of earners who pay 70% of income taxes. It’s less interesting to the 50% of Americans who don’t. These lower-income voters tend to support the Democrats’ approach to targeted government assistance and welfare. Republicans need to find a conservative answer to the challenge of social mobility. They should ask themselves: What are the building blocks of human capital, and how can inventive free market principles improve them for poor families?
(2) IMMIGRATION. The growing Asian/Hispanic population is gnawing at the GOP’s percentages in key states like North Carolina, Florida, and Colorado. Emphasizing expanded legal immigration over punishment for illegal immigrants is one way to embrace an Hispanic population that’s quintupled in the last 50 years. Multiplying the number of student visas for engineers and foreign-born college students? That’s not just an easy play for innovation and growth. It’s also a clever wink to an eastern and southern Asian constituent that makes up a disproportionate share of those visas.
(3) THE DEFICIT. The deficit is still the third most important issue for voters. But only 35% in yesterday’s exit poll explicitly objected to higher taxes on households making more than $ 250,000. Maybe there is space for moderate deficit hawkery that doesn’t insist on 100% spending cuts.
Republicans have a choice. They can blame the messaging or they can blame the message. Blaming the messaging means doubling down on lower taxes as the magic antidote to every economic problem for every family. Changing the message means seeking new ideas to appeal to new voters. “The demographics are changing,” O’Reilly said. “It’s not a traditional America anymore.” Time for some non-traditional thinking from the GOP.