x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

GOP plots the way forward after Obama victory

During the election campaign, Republicans generally pandered to fears among a predominantly white constituency that immigrants were taking their jobs.

Mitt Romney's supporters are dejected as news trickles in that the Rebublican candidate was losing the election to Barack Obama.
Mitt Romney's supporters are dejected as news trickles in that the Rebublican candidate was losing the election to Barack Obama.

WASHINGTON // Losing inspires soul-searching and Republicans are now doing their share since a demoralising defeat in this week's US presidential election.

It is a reflection that comes with the shattering of old certainties. The US has changed. The Grand Old Party has not changed with it. A chastened party now returns to business surveying an uncertain future.

The Democratic Party has better understood the changing demographics of a country built on immigration where Hispanic communities have organised to such an extent that their support arguably was crucial in handing victory to Barack Obama, the returning president.

During the election campaign, Mitt Romney, the Republican choice to unseat Mr Obama, instead talked of "self-deportation" of illegal immigrants, while Republicans generally pandered to fears among a predominantly white constituency that immigrants were taking their jobs.

Young voters, meanwhile, turned out in unprecedented numbers. But they voted overwhelmingly for the incumbent. The only Republican that excited a youthful following was Texan congressman Ron Paul whose libertarian message struck a chord but who was cold-shouldered by the party establishment at the Republican Party Convention in August.

Women, too, punished Republicans. Democrats successfully painted the party as hostile to women's rights. In this, they were helped immeasurably by remarks by Republican congressional hopefuls such as Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock who talked about "legitimate rape" and asserted as God's will pregnancy from rape.

Mr Romney's own suggestion that he consulted "binders full of women" only reinforced the perception of him as a throwback to a time that has passed, and the party generally as out of touch.

"You clearly see a generational divide," said Susan McManus, a professor of political science at the University of South Florida. Young voters turned out in force for Mr Obama, as they had in 2008. Republican projections had suggested a voter enthusiasm gap among 18 to 28 year-olds, but the opposite happened and there might even have been a small increase from 50 to 51 per cent of eligible young voters this time around.

And younger voters - a diverse and laissez faire demographic that does not like to be lectured on social issues such as same-sex marriage or reproductive rights - are not enthused about Republicans, said Ms McManus.

"Republicans have not paid attention to this generational shift that is taking place," she said.

And if their eye is not on the future generations, it is also not on future demographics. Nationally, white voters made up 72 per cent of the electorate — less than four years ago — while black voters remained at 13 per cent and Hispanics increased from 9 per cent to 10 per cent.

The latter group is proving more important as it grows and gets better organised. In the battleground state of Virginia, for instance, the Hispanic community grew 92 per cent in the decade since 2000, expanding to 8 per cent of the population and 2.2 per cent of registered voters.

Mr Obama carried the state by three per cent - holding on to what used to be a reliably Republican state for a second time running - and the 64 per cent of the Hispanic vote that exit polls suggested he secured played a crucial role.

Republicans just aren't "taking the long view" in reaching out to Latino communities, said Alfonso Lopez, the first Latino Democrat elected to Virginia's general assembly, a week before the election.

Nationally, Mr Obama garnered more than 71 per cent of the Latino vote, leaving Mr Romney with less Hispanic support than John McCain in 2008 and George W Bush in 2000 and 2004.

The party needs to ask itself tough questions, said Bryon Allen, a Republican pollster with the Washington-based Wilson, Perkins, Allen Opinion Research firm.

"We have to decide if the really strong anti-immigration voices in our party are the ones we want to be listening to."

It is not all doom and gloom for Republicans. Ms McManus suggested a focus on their conservative economic message and away from social conservatism might help Republicans regain traction among young voters.

And Christian Whiton, who worked in the last Republican administration and was an adviser to Newt Gingrich as the former leader of house failed to clinch his party's nomination, meanwhile suggested that Republicans simply needed to convey the conservative message better. Properly stated, conservatism would not just appeal to a white demographic but increasingly Latino communities who often hold conservative values, he said.

"I hope there is a bit of an insurgency [in the GOP]... by people who can confidently argue what conservatism is."

David Axelrod, one of Mr Obama's senior advisers, on Wednesday suggested Republicans had "painted themselves out of the mainstream".

Mr Allen, however, said the party still had energy and support. Nevertheless, he accepted there might be "incremental upheavals" and that the party had been chastened by Tuesdays' defeat.

"We thought Obama could be beaten… The reality now is there are a lot of real challenges and this is the alignment of power in which we are going to confront these challenges."