Four years ago, Republicans went into the wilderness. Having lost the White House and both houses of Congress, it was time for the Grand Old Party to think again about what it was and where it was going.
Fairly quickly, they found the Tea Party movement, a new home for their anger and energy. But the Tea Party road turned out to be a dead end. It looked new at first, but was really the shrinking Republican Party – aging, white, religious conservatives – with a new set of slogans.
Soon the Tea Party was hijacked by PACs and hacks like Tom Delay and Sarah Palin. Then Tea Party energy hijacked the presidential nomination process and things went downhill from there. The primaries were clown shows, producing a winner who couldn’t Etch-A-Sketch away the pandering he’d had to do to get the nomination.
But as Republicans get past the stages of denial and anger, they are coming to see their problems as much deeper. Forget Mitt Romney, Hurricane Sandy and Chris Christie. Republicans lost Senate seats in North Dakota, Montana, Missouri and Indiana. This wasn’t a presidential candidate’s loss alone; it was a rejection of the Republican brand.
The GOPs demographic problems are obvious in the exit polls. They lost by wide margins among Hispanics, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, single women, gays and young people.
Already, the GOP establishment is starting to embrace comprehensive immigration reform. That’s the easy part.
But something else happened Tuesday to a pillar of the conservative movement far older than the Tea Party: The religious right lost, big time. They lost not just the White House and not just the Congressional races. They lost on gay marriage in three states. They lost the public debate over personhood, abortion and access to contraception. And they know it.
“Millions of American evangelicals are absolutely shocked by not just the presidential election, but by the entire avalanche of results that came in,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told the New York Times. “It’s not that our message — we think abortion is wrong, we think same-sex marriage is wrong — didn’t get out. It did get out.
“It’s that the entire moral landscape has changed,” he said. “An increasingly secularized America understands our positions, and has rejected them.”
It’s another part of the Republicans’ demographic nightmare. For the first time, more than 20 percent of Americans have no religious affiliation, a percentage that is much higher among younger voters. Those people have lost patience with politicians and preachers nosing around in their bedrooms.
For 30 years, the likes of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and Mike Huckabee have been have been blurring the distinction between religion and politics. The Saturday before the election, Pat Boone robo-called me on behalf of Scott Brown, attaching a religious tone to secular Brown campaign talking points. He lost, too.
Page 2 of 2 - In defeat, the contradictions in the Republican Party between libertarians and social conservatives are hard to ignore. The youth and the energy are now in the libertarian wing, in the supporters of Rep. Ron Paul and, soon, Rep. Rand Paul. They stand ready to dump the nativists and the religious right in favor of a more pure message of small government and individual freedom.
The libertarian road may also prove to be a dead end, or at least a long trek. The Libertarian Party’s candidate, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, pulled about a million votes this time, just 1 percent.
It took a long time for Republicans to wander into this wilderness, and it may take quite some time for them to find their way out.
Rick Holmes, opinion editor for the Daily News (Mass.), blogs at Holmes & Co.
(http://blogs.wickedlocal.com/holmesandco). He can be reached at email@example.com.