Thursday, May 14, 2009

The New GOP Playbook: Rule 1

Rule #1: We all die, but old people die sooner.

There are many troubling problems facing the GOP these days, but none is greater than the ever-widening age gap. Now more than ever before, the GOP is a party of the old people, by the old people and for the old people. It's not to say that old people are unimportant, but catering to this base is the equivalent in professional sports of giving a long-term, multi-million dollar contract to a past-their-prime athlete. It may be a classy move, but it ultimately causes a team to collapse under the weight of its good intentions. So therein lies the challenge---how to expand your party's reach without alienating your current base. The simple answer is you can' least not without some casualties.

There will certainly be some fraction of the fringe right that will be so disgusted by the modernization of the GOP that they choose to not vote, or choose to place protest votes with third party lunatics. So be it. It's always better to take two steps forward and one step back than to take one step forward and two steps back. But more importantly, the so-called base of the GOP isn't going anywhere with their vote. This is the thing that none of the GOP leaders seem to realize. The base, typically white, Christian, pro-life voters who place extra emphasis on values issues, are never going to vote Democrat. They might bemoan how the GOP has lost its way and lost whatever backbone it once had, but in the end they'll still vote for the red side of the ticket even if the candidate is moderate on certain social issues. Trust me on this.

This, in fact, was the major tactical mistake made by John McCain in the last election. History books will make it seem as though Obama's victory was an easy one, but let's not forget that this was basically a dead heat until the conventions---and temporarily closer after the inane pick of Sarah Palin for VP. Obama was slightly ahead, but McCain was well within the margin of error in most polls. Still, everyone said the Palin pick was made because he needed a "Hail Mary," something I couldn't disagree with more. What he needed was an efficient two-minute offense, something a veteran politician like McCain is capable of doing. Some may disagree, but I believe McCain would have won in November had he remained closer to the McCain that at one point had me somewhat ambivalent about who would win the election. Instead, McCain's sprint to the right, his dash to embrace the most fanatical and distasteful elements of his party, and his willingness to play Rovian politics all made him popular with one and only one group...old Republicans...the same people who were going to vote for him anyway. Way to go, smart guy.

Much is always made in each election year about the youth vote and, historically, the impact of the youth vote ends up being more talk than substance. But no longer. Generation-Y, aka the "millennials", are children who were born between 1982 and 2003. This group, of which only 41% were eligible to vote in 2008, currently identify themselves as Democrats by a ratio of 2:1 versus Republicans, and they're the first in four generations to contain more self-perceived liberals than conservatives. A tracking poll by Daily Kos, an admittedly liberal blog, showed that 65% of millennials had a favorable opinion of the Democrats whereas just 9% held a favorable opinion of the Republican party. Even allowing for the possibility of biased results, the overall message of the poll rings true---the GOP is not the party of young, idealistic minds...and, on its present course, stands very little chance of narrowing that gap significantly. In 2010, for the midterm elections, about 50% of the millennials will be eligible to vote, 60% in which point they are expected to make up about 25% of the voting electorate...or roughly the percentage of Americans who consider themselves Republicans right now. Even more important, however, is that millennials vote. Unlike the jaded Generation-X crowd, voter participation amongst the millennials has been consistently rising, and they're also more inclined toward volunteerism and community service. Much of this is explained in a fascinating article in the Los Angeles Times. You can question the numbers, but dismissing the conclusions would be a mistake.

So why are so many young voters more liberal than past young voters? That's a question that could take hours to answer, but I'll simply say that the GOP doesn't do a good job of trying to understand who these young voters are and why they believe what they believe. Anecdotally speaking, Michael Steele's embarrassing attempts to be the cool, black guy of the GOP pretty much explains it all. Young voters are smart enough and savvy enough (thank you, pop culture) to recognize a fraud when they see it. I don't dislike Michael Steele, but pretending to be ghetto when he's obviously the whitest black man on the planet is so inauthentic as to be seen for exactly what it is...a feigned attempt at appearing like something that the GOP is not. You can put some lipstick and bling on the GOP, but it's still the party of Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and Glenn Beck.

If the statistics about millennial voters are to be believed, and if the GOP continues on its present course, the Democrats will be in power for the rest of my lifetime. Ergo, the GOP must change course immediately and realize that they are dead in the water without shaving into the party gap in the youth vote. In the next chapter, I'll tell them how.


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