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Jeremiah Goulka: Rearranging the Deck Chairs on the Republican Titanic

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To get more inclusive, however, these leaders offer an entirely cosmetic approach: emphasize the Party's middle-class message, increase outreach or "partnership" with Hispanics and Asian Americans, back off the anti-immigration message a tad, say fewer stupid things - la Akin and Mourdock, cross your fingers, and hope for the best.

A Nonsense Strategy

When it comes to why this won't work down the line, it's hard to know where to start.  Take that middle-class message.  Many Republicans think that it should offer "crossover appeal" on its own, so long as it's said loudly enough.

But what exactly is it?  After all, it's never about jobs going abroad, retirement worries (except insofar as the GOP wants to increase insecurity by privatizing Social Security), underwater mortgages, missing childcare for working families, exploding higher education costs, or what global warming is doing to the Midwestern breadbasket and coastal agriculture (much less the long-term capability of the planet to sustain life as we know it).  Instead, it remains about "choice," lowering taxes (again), "entitlement reform," and getting the government out of the way of economic growth.

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As if what the middle class really wants or needs is "choice" in education (Jindal's plan to divert tax funds to private and parochial schools through vouchers was just ruled unconstitutional); "choice," not affordability, in health care (the #1 cause of personal bankruptcy in America); and ever more environmental pollution, as well as further challenges to getting workman's comp if you get injured on the job.

Studies have repeatedly shown that most Americans are "operationally" liberal on the substance of most policy issues.  In other words, Republicans will support "small government," until you ask about cutting spending on anything other than anti-poverty programs.  In fact, less than a third of self-identifying Republicans surveyed by Reuters/Ipsos this year "somewhat" or "strongly" disagreed with the proposition that the wealthiest Americans should pay higher tax rates.

As a counter to the charge that the GOP is the party of the rich, Jindal offered this on Fox News: "We... need to make it very clear... that we're not the party of Big: big businesses, big banks, big Wall Street, big bailouts."

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Um" who other than Republican true believers will buy that?

The Jerk Factor

As for those demographic groups the GOP needs to start winning over in the medium- and long-term, putative 2016 A-lister Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wants to see a middle class "message of prosperity and freedom for all" communicated loudly to immigrants and the young.  But as one astute Republican insider said to me, "Hispanics won't hear our message so long as they think our immigration platform says, "We hate Mexicans.'"

Bobby Jindal was right to say , "If we want people to like us, we have to like them first." But the Party hasn't truly begun to grasp what might be called the liking gap between the GOP and the groups it needs to cultivate.  It's time for Republicans to take a long, hard look in the mirror.  It's not just recent anti-immigration fervor that repels Hispanics and others from the party.  The GOP needs to internalize the fact that the dead bird hanging from its neck is its entire modern history. 

It's true that the Democrats were once the segregationists and Abraham Lincoln and the conservationist, trust-busting Teddy Roosevelt were Republicans, as Republicans are fond of pointing out.  But that's ancient history.

The Party's modern history began when business leaders got politicized in response to the New Deal and then the GOP began courting the Dixiecrats after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965 (despite knowing that he had "just delivered the South to the Republican Party"). The white South started voting for GOP presidential candidates in the Nixon years and would soon become solidly Republican.  At 70% of the electorate (nearly 90% in Mississippi), it remains so today.

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White-flight suburbs around the country followed suit.  Add in the fervent cultivation of evangelical Protestant Christians -- anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-evolution, anti-science -- and the various modern incarnations of nativist Know Nothings.  Don't forget the ejection of moderates from the Party, and you have the essential history of the modern GOP in two paragraphs.

So the GOP can say that it wants to and plans to like Hispanics, Asian Americans, unmarried women, and secular youth, but to be believable, merely easing off on its anti-immigration message or going quiet on abortion won't do the trick.  And if it wants to prove that it cares, it will have to put some real money where its mouth is.

What the Party Should Do -- and Won't

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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