In the days since Barack Obama’s re-election into office, the Republican Party has had to check itself into a treatment center. Somewhere along the road, the party of Abe Lincoln had become the party of Rush Limbaugh. This last election was an indictment of just how bad things are for the party. It could really have won this presidential election. With an economy still in the dumps and an anemic recovery, Barack Obama was indeed vulnerable. But a clumsy party could not get out of its own way to make the kill.
Many in the party have wondered aloud whether the problem was the messenger, Mitt Romney. Such discussion insensitively misses the point. The messenger was part of a problem—the message.
The coalition that secured Mr. Obama a second term tells a story: Single women, young people, African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians, all scream an unignorable narrative. As studies show, these groups are most susceptible to poverty in American society. Different factors account for this susceptibility but the thematic element to them all is their deep socioeconomic vulnerability.
George W. Bush understood this when he ran for office. He understood that society has a social contract—a contract that asks the well-to-do to assist the least able among us. That only in striving to constantly fulfill this social contract does society thrive and satisfies the aspirations of most of its citizens. He labeled himself a “compassionate conservative;” well-aware of the leprosy of socioeconomic insensitivity that has come to taint the Republican brand. In 2004, he won 44 percent of the Latino vote. In this past election, Mitt Romney could only register a measly 27 percent.
Such a number is unsurprising given the hyper-individualistic message of today’s Republican Party. Republicans, with the emergence of the Tea Party, have willfully sought to shred into pieces the social safety net. They demonize and ferociously attack any collective action as a nation to assist a belabored middleclass and the powerless poor. In attempts after attempts, Republicans in Congress have aggressively sought to cut funding for social programs like Medicare that benefit the poor—oftentimes citing such funding as wasteful spending by “big” government.
This party has indeed hugged a tornado and lost any sense of a moral compass. A Pew Research Center study underscores this. During Ronald Reagan’s second term in 1987, 62 percent of Republicans believed government has a responsibility to care for those who can’t help themselves. Today, only 40 percent of Republicans still believe that.
Republicans have promulgated a totally apathetic message that labels government as a monster that encourages failure and stifles personal enterprise. To many Republicans, there are two Americas—those that make and those that take. It is into this latter group that Republicans have placed Barack Obama’s coalition (Single women, African-Americans, Latinos, etc) and yet expected their vote on Election Day. A Pew Research Center poll shows an overwhelming majority of Republicans (57 percent) believe people are poor because they don’t work hard, while only 28 percent believe people are poor because of circumstances beyond their control. This Republican Party has become totally disjointed from the American discourse.
Alas, it is from this fatal message that the messenger was produced, as evidenced by words from his own mouth. Mitt Romney, while at a fundraiser, referred to 47 percent of Americans as people “who are dependent upon government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to take care of them, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”
How can such a message realistically win in a time of economic distress?
Where the Republican Party failed, Barack Obama excelled. His message of collective struggle resonated with more Americans than Mitt Romney’s. The president won the key battleground states, leaving a lost and confused Republican Party asking existential questions.
I’ve heard some say an aggressive comprehensive immigration reform effort by the Republican Party will show the electorate that Republicans are capable of empathy. This will be a good logical step but it’s not a be-all, cure-all solution to the crisis whiplashing the party. The Republican Party will fundamentally have to re-espouse such humanity as shown by Abe Lincoln when he risked his life for the freedom of African-American slaves, if it truly seeks to be competitive.
Despite two states voting to allow recreational marijuana use, four states voting to constitutionally allow gay marriage, election of first ever openly bisexual candidate into the House and first-ever openly gay woman into the Senate—this country, as an interactive map of the election by the Wall Street Journal does show, is still a center-right country. Such a landscape is in huge favor of the Republican Party. But first, it must find its soul real quick!