GOP’s “Happy Loser” Syndrome: Why the Right May Not Want the White House
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Politico has tackled the GOP’s “extremist problem” and they’ve decided that the party is in real trouble – or, as they call it, ”losing by winning.” They point out the obvious fact that the Republicans can win elections in off-years by stoking their base but will have difficulty cobbling together a national majority to win the presidency two years later.
“The Republican Party has essentially now two wings: a congressional wing and the national wing,” the veteran GOP pollster Bill McInturff said at a recent Pew Research Center forum on so-called millennial voters, those from 18 to 29 years of age. The congressional wing is thriving, especially in the South, in districts that are 75 percent, or even 80 percent, white, and where every incumbent’s worst fear is a challenge from the right.
But McInturff summed up the national party’s prospects with an old line from Mr. T in “Rocky III”: “Prediction? Pain!” He said the party’s “genetic instinct” is that younger voters don’t vote, and too many Republicans don’t understand the coming demographic wave. “Why am I a Republican?” he asked. “I believe in the power of markets. The marketplace is, you will lose — keep losing national elections — until you keep up.”
I wonder if Republican pollsters were telling them the same thing in, say, 1966, when the demographics looked like this:
Now that was a demographic time bomb that encompassed the most radical left-wing young generation in history. And guess what happened? A powerful conservative movement happened that culminated in the election of Ronald Reagan just 14 years later. Perhaps it’s not genetics that is determining their behavior but rather their own experience.
This is not to say that millennials will not be much more liberal than their baby boomer forebears turned out to be, but it would likely have been predicted by many after 1964 that the Republicans had better figure out how to cater to “the youth” or they were doomed. But they didn’t. They catered to fear and resentment and anger and loss and they built their movement around it.
And yes, these are different times with a very different culture. Nothing ever plays itself out exactly the same way twice. Instead of a period of cynicism and lost faith, like the 1970s, perhaps the next decade will be one of high hopes and renewed idealism and that will motivate the youth to work for progress, unlike their disappointing boomer parents and grandparents who pretty much succumbed to liberal disillusionment. But it’s probably a mistake to believe that it is inevitable. Tough times can make people more expansive and idealistic or it can make them more mean and insular. And considering the challenges we face with climate change, income inequality, money in politics and extremism of all stripes, there’s a good chance that we’re going to have some tough times ahead.
None of this is to say that Republicans are going to win the presidency any time soon. For the moment it appears that the Democrats hold the majority on a national basis. But conservatives tend to have more patience than liberals and they may very well think the status quo is just fine. After all, with the exception of Obamacare (granted, a big exception) they’ve been getting everything they want as an extremist minority party.
As Matthew O’Brien of the Atlantic adroitly pointed out a while back:
[I]f one side keeps moving further and further, say, right, they can eventually get a “compromise” that gets them more than they asked for at the beginning.
Like with the budget. You can see that in the chart below from Harry Stein and Michael Linden of the Center for American Progress that looks at proposed spending levels the last few years. There’s been so much austerity that the new Patty Murray-Paul Ryan deal would actually have less discretionary spending in 2014 than Ryan’s original budget called for.