This morning on Morning Edition, Renee Montaigne and Cokie Roberts (among others) pondered the problem America’s shifting demographics poses to the Republican Party. Having tacked far enough to the right in order to capture the nomination, Romney could not tack back fast enough or far enough to the center to capture the popular vote, which included a sizeable and growing number of voting groups – women, Hispanics, African Americans, fiscally conservative/socially responsible – he was obligated to offend during the primaries.
I have suggested in this blog that (big “R”) Republicans need to become (small “r”) republicans; that is, they need to recapture a vision for res publica, the “wealth we hold in common,” or “commonwealth.”
But is this really a formula for electoral victory? Once again this year, the Republicans captured two demographics. They captured the $50K and above vote; and they also captured the vote of white male voters who felt the economic pinch. And while the exit polling data is still trickling in, it is fair to say that the Republicans captured the votes of white males who feel that they have been on the losing end of the stick to non-whites, members of union families, and government workers.
Were big “R” Republicans to promote small “r” republican values and institutions, I have no doubt but that they would lose their edge both with the $50K up crowd and with the disgruntled white male voter demographic.
For those of you who have read my book, you will recognize that this is much the same conundrum the Republican Party found itself in after 1945. The Democratic Party had stolen their thunder. Not only had Democratic Party embraced the republican notion of “wealth we hold in common,” but they had also embraced the Republican’s social franchise, peeling off African American voters in the south and responsible business voters in the north. The Republican Party was losing its very raison d’etre.
But then the Republican Party stole something just as valuable from the Democrats: the “southern strategy.” Now a half-century later, as any electoral map clearly shows, the Republican Party has fully lived into this redefinition of itself. It is now the party of the oligarchs and their unorganized white male employees and service professionals. But, as Nixon discovered in 1960 and Goldwater in 1964; that is not enough.
And, as we learned in this election, not even Citizens United will save them. So, what now?
I anticipate a fairly sizeable segment of Republican Party punditry will see the writing on the wall and will view massive voter suppression and disenfranchisement as their only avenue to principled victory. “Principled victory” in this context means resisting compromise on social or economic issues. The higher the percentage of angry white underemployed male evangelicals, the better the Republican chances for victory.
This strategy of voter suppression will be accompanied by a locally-focused approach. Local power (sorry Paul) is by definition anti-federalist. The House of Representatives was always a concession to underemployed white voters. (This helps to explain why the House will only return to the Democratic column when Democrats join with their Republican colleagues to renounce their commitment to republican values and institutions.) With their angry white underemployed base, Republicans will continue to pack School Boards, state legislatures, transportation commissions, regional boards, city councils and the like.
And, of course, they will continue to leverage their plutocratic and oligarchic advantage in media, entertainment, business, and commerce.
This, to be sure, will not win them the Senate or the White House. But it may so wreck the nation financially and so disable it politically that out of pure desperation the nation might seek a “third way” out, just as Italy did in 1922 and Germany did in 1932.
But, let us suppose that small “r” republicans who still find themselves in the big “R” Republican Party grow disheartened by their Party’s utter rejection of small “r” republican values and institutions? And, let us suppose that these small “r” republicans make common cause with small “r” republicans in their opponent’s party, the Democratic Party. And, let us suppose that together they do something that has not been tried since 1791, when Thomas Jefferson and James Madison formed the Democratic-Republican Party – a grand coalition.
My best guess is that such a grand coalition would not be to the liking of the current Republican leadership or its current anti-federalist, anti-republican base. So be it. My guess is that it would also not be to the liking of the libertarian, anti-federalist fringe the circles on the edges of both the Democratic and the Republican Parties. These anti-federalists and anti-republicans will spin off into their own left-wing and right-wing orbits.
But – and this is my hope – it is only such a grand coalition, committed to the wealth we hold in common, that will pull our nation back from the precipice. And, it is also only such a grand coalition that will save what remains of the Republican Party either from self-destruction, from tyranny, or from both.