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Column: Reality crashes the Republican Party

For Republicans wondering what went wrong, it's not a matter of fine-tuning a message or finding minority candidates; the problem is a platform that staked out the far-right fringe on many issues.

November 09, 2012|Sandy Banks
  • A dismayed Republican crowd reacts at the Boston Convention Center on election night as the race is called for President Obama.
A dismayed Republican crowd reacts at the Boston Convention Center on election… (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles…)

It turns out this presidential election wasn't so much about race after all, but about something bigger, more fundamental and harder to ignore. And there's a lesson here for shellshocked Republicans, still wondering how things went so wrong:

It's time to drop that "Take our country back" stuff and take your party back instead.

Barack Obama's romp took many by surprise. Even as Obama votes piled up on Tuesday night, political operative Dick Morris, who has worked both sides of the aisle, kept predicting a Mitt Romney landslide.

It's hard to argue with the demographic dimensions of Obama's victory. He won in almost every category of voters except senior citizens and white men.

That's led to lots of head-banging for GOP pundits: Romney might have won, they say, if he had eased up on illegal immigration and found a running mate who could attract Latinos or draw votes in swing states.

But this is not a matter of fine-tuning the message or rustling up a candidate with brown skin or serviceable Spanish.

The problem is a platform that staked out the far-right fringe on so many issues that it turned off immigrants, women, minorities, single mothers, young people, gays and lesbians.

The images of winners and losers on election night said it all: the Norman Rockwell tableau in Romney's sullen Boston ballroom versus the kaleidoscopic diversity of Obama's Chicago victory montage.

The America the Republicans want is not the one we have.

::

Conventional wisdom would credit the win to smart campaigning and coalition-building.

According to exit polls, support for Obama came from 93% of blacks, 71% of Latinos, 73% of Asian Americans, 76% of gays and lesbians, 60% of voters under 30 and 55% of women.

But that is not your classic ideological coalition, with shared interests and concerns. That's a collection of folks alienated, over time, by Republicans and their mission to return America to an era when some people had it really good — and whole groups of others had to settle for leftovers.

People vote their pocketbooks, but they also vote their passions. And those reflect not only their age and ethnic heritage, but the sort of personal lives that right-wingers have made clear they're not willing to abide.

Women are having babies without marrying the fathers. Gays and lesbians aren't willing anymore to stay hidden in the closet. Young people are using social media to lift their champions and bury their opponents. And Latinos and Asian Americans are staking their claim to a growing slice of this American pie.

And that affects the rest of us. If you don't have a family member who's gay, you probably have a friend or co-worker who is. If you have teenagers at home, you've probably learned to accept their bands of multiracial friends.

And if you are, like me, a single mother, you don't want to be made to feel that you are shortchanging your kids. And I'm not willing to allow my daughters' reproductive options to be controlled by a bunch of narrow-minded, self-righteous men.

Voters carried those slights and insults to the voting booth, tired of being treated with contempt by a party that doesn't seem to understand their realities.

We're rejecting hypocritical rhetoric: Newt Gingrich, with three marriages and a string of infidelities, arguing that allowing gays to wed violates the sanctity of marriage.

Women heard a wake-up call in Todd Akin's remarks about rape shutting a woman's body down. That kind of idiocy is frightening, and it brings clarity to what's at stake in the debate over abortion.

And young people rebelled at being written off as society's leeches. They are working full time for poverty wages or desperate for jobs that don't exist, part of that sponger demographic — the 47% — that Romney privately mocked.

I don't know if it's mean-spirited, shortsighted or simply wishful thinking, but the Republican Party is pandering to a base that is rapidly shrinking in a country that's learning to tune them out.

::

It would be nice to think that this botched campaign reflects the pull of the party's fringe, and is easily correctable.

But the GOP has been tacking right for decades. Obama's ascent to the presidency just escalated the phenomenon by helping to launch the tea party wing, whose mission was getting him out of office.

According to Emory University professor Alan Abramowitz, who has studied the tea party for years, that ultra-conservative activist segment now dominates the Republican Party.

Tea party folks donate more money, attend more meetings and rallies, and pester elected officials more than other party regulars. They are rabidly against abortion and gay marriage and tend to hold hostile attitudes toward blacks and gays.

And more than half of Republicans — 63% of party stalwarts — consider themselves supporters of the tea party movement.

That explains why the muscle-flexing of the "new America" in this election drove party leaders bonkers.

There was Karl Rove on Tuesday night, having a temper tantrum when Fox News called Ohio — and the race — for President Obama. Rove had funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to Republican candidates and had very little to show for it.

And there was Bill O'Reilly whining that this country is "not a traditional America anymore," implying that Republicans value hard work and fair play, and those other people just "want stuff."

And Morris, excusing his roundly mocked projection of a Romney landslide by admitting that the "new America" caught him by surprise.

He thought that the election four years ago was nothing but a "one-off," that voter-turnout demographics would "go back to 2004," he said.

I guess he figured the groups that cinched Obama's first term — minorities, women, young people — were only there for the party.

Which means Republicans weren't beaten only by arithmetic this time. They lost through willful blindness.

sandy.banks@latimes.com

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