Friday, August 21, 2015

Equal Opportunity Outrage

GOP Debate
Just over half the Republican Presidential candidates.

In the end, will there be anyone left to vote for whomever survives the GOP presidential nomination race?

Donald Trump set the tone for the campaign with his vicious, unapologetic assault on immigrants. He started by slandering Mexican immigrants, and under criticism, doubled down to propose eliminating birthright citizenship, the crown jewel of post-Civil War Constitutional reforms. Following Mitt Romney's embarrassing defeat in 2012, the Republican Party did some deep navel-gazing. One of its conclusions was that the party had to start appealing to immigrants if it was to have any chance of ever winning the White House again. Trump's two-month tirade against immigrants is a brutish repudiation of that conclusion, and the speed with which so many of his opponents for the nomination jumped on the Constitution-scrapping bandwagon demonstrates the shallowness of the introspection.

Ted Cruz has downplayed the immigration issue, perhaps to keep his own sketchy citizenship out of the spotlight. Instead, he's decided the GOP can do without the gay vote, pushing a homophobic agenda that lionizes bigots, portraying them as victims of religious oppression. While the greater GOP field is being much more cautious in its pronouncements on same-gender marriage, there's little doubt that there are many of the Tea Party persuasion who'd rather take on city hall than serve gay customers in their businesses, or admit that granting gay couples equal civil rights is simply the right thing to do; so Cruz is hardly the only candidate in the field likely to be courting the homophobe vote, at the expense of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and open-minded straight votes.

Do they think they can win without gay or immigrant votes. Who's next to be jettisoned from the GOP bandwagon?

How about women of color? Ben Carson glibly claims that rape and incest victims can routinely reverse any traumatic pregnancies with a morning-after pill at the emergency room just down the street. This is his justification for closing women's health clinics, in an effort to make abortion nearly impossible for anyone but the wealthy to obtain.

Maybe Republicans can do just fine without the black women's vote. After all, that's just a small percentage of the overall electorate. But what about not just black women, but all women? The Republican presidential field is unified in its disdain for social security, a program that benefits women far more than men--especially retired women, those most likely to vote Republican. And, of course, Donald Trump has managed to alienate far more than retired women with his boorish remarks--putting the rest of the field in the unenviable position of being to the right of a man most American women find repugnant.

What's going on here? Does any of these candidates realistically think he--or, if one includes Carly Fiorina, she--has any chance of becoming President at the expense of such huge portions of the electorate?

I suspect that what we're seeing is a cynical, brutal bid for the lowest common denominator, the bigoted, reactionary Republican base who can be counted on to vote for whomever the ultimate nominee is, but who also turn out in much larger numbers for primaries and caucuses than do the mainstream of the Republican party (which may also, inexplicably, still contain some members of all the groups mentioned earlier in this essay). These candidates have to win that hard-right base in order to take the nomination. The dilemma for them is that the disproportionate influence of this base on primaries is severely diluted in general elections, so the ultimate GOP nominee has to count on two things: that enough voters will have forgotten the outrageous remarks he (maybe she) made to secure the nomination; and that those who haven't forgotten will inexplicably decide not to vote.

Before you dismiss the strategy as hypocritical and doomed, consider this: in 1988, George HW Bush won the Presidency with a campaign that unapologetically spurned voters of color by associating his opponent, Michael Dukakis, with an African-American murderer. Twenty years before that, Richard Nixon won election by appealing to racists terrified of integrated schools and housing. Donald Trump has spoken about a new "silent majority" (Nixon's term for voters too embarrassed to admit their xenophobia and racism, but willing to vote their intolerant consciences). So it's not deja vu; these patterns really are repeating themselves.

What the strategy fails to acknowledge, however, is that any success it enjoys will be limited to the extreme. The majority of Republican voters are elderly and white. Their generation is beginning to vanish. Rising to take their place are Millennials, young adults raised with the internet. And unlike the forgetful elephants of the mainstream GOP, the internet never forgets. Every group of people targeted by Republican Presidential candidates is embraced by Millennials, who see no reason to reject persons of color, persons of foreign origin, persons with same-gender orientation, persons who are female. When November 2016 arrives, all the outrage these candidates have evoked will still be in the air, kept current by the far savvier Democratic nominee, available at the click of a mouse or the tap of a finger on a touch screen. "Blood coming out of her wherever" will be all those Millennials need to know about the Grand. OLD. Party.

The eventual GOP nominee has been self-inflicting this death of a thousand cuts. The question for the party now is this: once the election is over, will their be any Republicans left?

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