8 Nov 2012

Does civil war beckon for the Republican party?

The sound you can hear coming from the defeated ranks of the Republican party is not the vigorous licking of wounds but the whimpering, whining and chest beating that comes with a terrifying realisation: we either change or die.

The party was pummeled because it had become too old, white and male. It had lost its way in a number of dead end alleys. One was created by the small government, low taxation Tea Party. Exit polls indicated what I had long suspected. A majority of Americans do not share the Tea Party’s hysterical phobia of government nor are they implacably opposed to higher taxation for those who earn more.

The recession has changed some attitudes towards money. America has a strong tradition of civic duty and the hard times of late have made this country less not more selfish. And then there is rape. When the answer to the question: “how is our rape issues candidate doing in the polls?” Is “which one?” You know you have a problem. From Todd Akin to Richard Mourdock, the Grand Old Party (GOP) fielded a number of candidates whose views on rape, women’s rights and God’s role in reproduction are so old fashioned and extreme that they would be whispered even in the Vatican let alone trumpeted on a US campaign trail.

The party wasted too much time agonising over extreme versions of issues that most Americans had assumed had been settled back in the days before the Beatles scored their first hit. The Republicans looked and sounded as if they were competing for parts in Mad Men. And Mitt Romney with his gee-golly lingo and clean cut chisel looks reminded me of Donald Draper, without the martinis and the sex appeal. The GOP had morphed into the Stepford wives party and it is hardly surprising that women stuck with Barack Obama.

And then there’s the Latino problem. When Mitt Romney suggested that an alternative to enforced mass deportation of illegal migrants was voluntary mass “self deportation” the tin ear got a thumbs up. What he was trying to say is that in bad times, when American jobs are scarce Latinos will cross the border to Mexico voluntarily. This is indeed true. The facts bare it out. But Romney’s language was clumsy and heartless. He sounded like someone who only cherishes Latinos as gardeners or dish washers not potential fellow citizens.

The Latino share of the vote for Obama (72 per cent compared to 44 percent for George w Bush) is alarming for the GOP because it didn’t have to be like this. Hailing from Texas, Karl Rove and George Bush instinctively realised that the Latino community could become natural Republican turf. They are socially conservative, hard working, family oriented and have the immigrants suspicion of government dependency. They also outnumber African-Americans as the biggest minority. By 2050 there will be fewer whites than Latinos.

The old Republican plan was to turn Latinos into what African Americans had become for the Democrats, a reliable constituency. The method of achieving this should have been immigration reform. Dubya tried and then when the bigoted rank and file of his party opposed him he got bored, as so often, and moved on to something else. The Latino community took note. Just as they did when Obama promised immigration reform in 2008 and then not only ignored his own pledge but also ended up deporting more illegals (1.2 million) than any other president. The difference is that he changed policy at the last minute -by creating an amnesty for illegal migrants younger than 29- and the language of the Democratic party towards Latinos has rarely been as racist and exclusive as the other side’s.

The GOP had become the nasty party. Some party leaders, including Jeb Bush, whose wife is Hispanic and who speaks fluent Spanish, know that this needs to change dramatically and now. I have no doubt that the Republican leadership will fall over itself now to make nice with Latinos. But these words will be meaningless unless they can reign in grassroots bigots like Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona. And here we get back to the fundamental problem facing the GOP. What used to be a broad church has become a schismatic one. Civil war beckons amongst the various Republican factions. The Tea party may have helped Romney lose the election but they have held onto their own seats in the House and will feel vindicated. This internal tension will only get worse as everyone gears up next year for the mid term elections. The wounds may get deeper and more infected before they get licked.

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