For Republicans seeking a upside to Tuesday’s bad news, there’s the positive development that Karl Rove, at long last, may be laughed out of public life for his bizarre FoxNews meltdown. He ought to be expunged anyway, for giving the country Dubya, and for his absurd declarations over the years about the GOP’s emerging Hispanic majority and related magical thinking. Don’t worry about Karl, he’s made millions off this, and he’s all good. His party, not so much.
We are now being treated to gallons of facile commentary about how the GOP needs to do better with Hispanic voters. Which is true and also a truism. Expect to hear a lot about how the Republicans need more brown faces, mariachi bands and fiesta-themed GOP outings. Under this lies a deeply patronizing belief that Hispanics are suffering from a sort of false consciousness as they are “natural conservatives” who will opt for the Republicans if only the GOP can find the right spokesmodel. I can only imagine how much time, treasure and effort the RNC is currently expending on finding a right-of-center J-Lo to pitch for the party.
The reality, however, is that Hispanics are not fools, and they vote heavily for Democrats because that party treats them better and gives them lots of stuff. Republican genuflecting to low taxes and less government has limited appeal to people who actually benefit from government largesse more, on average, than they pay for it. And that’s not likely to change anytime soon.
Moreover, despite much liberal crowing about how successful their electing a new people thing has worked out for Obama and the Democrats, the reality is a tad more complex. The always interesting Sean Trende has actually crunched the numbers, which show that what mattered in 2012 was not minority turnout, but white non-turnout. Obama did as well among non-whites as could have been easily guessed, but Romney simply did not get out the white vote as he needed to.
Trende’s one-liner that captures it all: “But most importantly, the 2012 elections actually weren’t about a demographic explosion with non-white voters. Instead, they were about a large group of white voters not showing up.”
Why those whites failed to show up on Tuesday is an interesting question which will, no doubt, be debated for some time. One interesting aspect is that Romney was unable to bring upscale whites – educated, affluent suburbanites who deserted the GOP due to George W. Bush – back into the fold. In places like Virginia’s DC suburbs, this really hurt. Much of this may not be Romney’s fault, since W’s damage to the GOP brand was serious, and having nominee who, no matter what faults, certainly did not fit the truck-drivin’, NASCAR-watchin’ stereotype which W cultivated, could not undo this negative image, which may take years.
But what’s really interesting, as Trende shows, is that Romney lost downmarket whites too. It’s clear, from his look at Ohio voting, that poorer whites, who dislike Obama and were surely open to a Republican alternative, nevertheless failed to show up for Romney in the numbers they needed to for the GOP to win in 2012.
Trende speculates that this probably has much to do with the barrage of anti-Romney ads during the summer which defined the GOP’s man negatively, early, setting a bad image from which the governor was never able to fully recover, despite impressive debate performance in October.
In other words, negative ads work. They especially work when they are based in truths. No matter how nasty some of those ads were, they were grounded in some essential realities about Romney; to make matters worse, Romney said some stupid things that played right into this, and he failed to release his tax returns. That, alone, may have doomed him; it certainly didn’t play well with poorer whites in places like Ohio, who are hurting badly in the current economy, and wanted Obama out, but not at the cost of putting a sneaky plutocrat like Romney in. So they stayed home. Americans don’t mind that you’ve made a lot of money. Many, however, do mind when you’re secretive about it all, with a whiff of condescension.
The GOP has a basic choice to make if it wants to survive as a national party: Get more Hispanics or get more whites. Doing the latter, especially reaching out to whites who are economically hurting, would require the party to conduct a painful self-examination as to why it favors the wealthy so consistently at the expense of average people. Doing the former will require glossy ads, more token brown faces at GOP events, and greater marketing en espanol yet no real introspection.
Of course, the latter course might actually save the Republicans nationally, while the former course is a flight of fancy. Nevertheless, expect bulk purchases of “Yo soy Republican!” t-shirts and bumper-stickers to rise.