Will Republican ever win again?

Patricio Navia

Buenos Aires Herald, November 13, 2012


After Barack Obama’s re-election, the finger-pointing in the Republican Party has shown the divisions between those who believe the party must promote more moderate views—especially on issues that concern women and Latinos—and those who believe the party lost for not being conservative enough. The future of the party depends on the outcome of this ideological struggle.  If the moderate forces lose, Republicans will find it very difficult to take the White House away from Democrats. After all, since 1992, Democrats have won the popular vote in 5 of the last six elections.


Despite the economic crisis—and the high unemployment—Republicans were always behind in the 2012 race.  Obama was always ahead in most reliable pre-election polls, but his dismal performance in the first debate led many to believe that the race was wide open. After the first debate, Romney improved in the national polls, but Obama kept his lead in most battleground states. The Republican leadership and the news media—with a vested interest in making the election a contested race up to the last minute—led many Republicans to believe that they could score a come from behind victory. Obama's ample reelection victory was particularly sour news for those who falsely believed that Romney was ahead in the critical states.


As it always happens when a party is defeated, the finger-pointing began in earnest immediately after the defeat. Though Mitt Romney has assumed all the responsibility, many Republican moderates have pointed to Obama's strong lead among women and Latinos as evidence of the wrong turn the party took on women issues and immigration reform.


The “women problem” for the Republican Party is particularly worrisome. In 2012, Democrats successfully used scandals triggered by inappropriate and damaging comments made by Republican candidates on the issue of rape to portray the Republican Party as anti-women.  But even without those scandals, Republicans would have found it difficult to attract women voters. Voting preferences for Democrats among women have been growing in the past two decades. As Republicans are perceived as threatening the social safety net and limiting women’s reproductive rights choices, women are growingly reluctant to vote Republican. In fact, fully aware of their gender gap advantage, Democrats have recruited more women candidates. Republicans need to soften their positions on women’s issues, particularly on reproductive rights, if they want to remain electorally competitive.  Being pro-life is not the problem.  Republicans are often perceived as being against many other reproductive rights. 


Republicans also need to rethink their strategy with Latinos. No other voting bloc has deserted the Republican Party more quickly than Latinos. In 2000, George W Bush received 2 out of every 5 Latino votes. In 2012, only 3 out of every 10 Latinos voted for Romney.  Some Latino Republican leaders, like former Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, have argued that Latinos are scared of the Republican Party because of its harsh rhetoric against immigration reform. Mitt Romney’s campaign comment—in a Republican primary debate—about creating conditions for undocumented aliens to self-deport hurt him heavily among Latinos.  Though a large majority of Latinos in the U.S. are citizens or permanent residents, anti-illegal immigration talk by Republicans is often perceived as anti-Latino by many Latinos. Since Latinos already comprise 18% of the US population and made up 12% of the electorate in the most recent election, a strategy that scares Latinos away from the Republican Party is a recipe for future defeats.


Fortunately for Republicans, Latinos and the GOP share many conservative values. Latinos are very religious and conservative on moral issues. Polls show that Latinos care much about employment opportunities than about social programs. In general, Latinos are more pro-life than the general population. Historically, Republicans have succeeded in attracting Latino voters. Prominent Latino Republicans were elected last Tuesday. Ted Cruz, the new senator from Texas will join Marco Rubio, from Florida, as the two Republican Latino senators. Because Latinos vote for Republicans when they are perceived as immigration friendly—like former President George W Bush—offers an opportunity to Republicans to make electoral gains among the fastest growing electoral bloc in the U.S.  But Republicans will not attract Latino votes unless they move forward with an immigration reform that is seen as acceptable by most Latinos.

Republican conservatives dominated the primary process and forced the party’s presidential candidate to adopt extreme positions that alienated women voters and Latinos.  After the defeat, several moderate Republican leaders have begun to speak up in defense of more moderate positions.  They rightly argue that the Republican Party can take a principled stand on some issues—like taxes and fiscal responsibility—that are ideologically important to conservatives but less likely to alienate women and Latinos.  Those moderate leaders are likely to face fierce opposition by the more conservative and dogmatic groups within the Party.  However, the future of the party depends on the victory of the moderate voices. Otherwise, it will be increasingly difficult for the Republican Party to win future elections.