(Hilton Head, S.C.) Long ago in Boston a standard joke heard in Beacon Hill public houses was that politicians told their wives that they simply had to go to bars to escape reporters, while conversely reporters told their editors that they simply had to go to bars to find politicians.
Accordingly I felt myself to be participating in a Grand Tradition when I joined a politically connected friend in a local watering hole after a night of watching GOP Primary returns at a gathering of Beaufort County Republicans.
The GOP contest in question had drawn considerable national attention because it marked the unlikely political resurrection of former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford who not so long ago had resigned in disgrace when after telling his staff he was going for a week long hike down the Appalachian Trail instead turned up in Argentina in “dalliance” with a Buenos Aires woman who was not his wife.
Defying playwright Noel Coward’s aphorism that “there are no Second Acts in American Life”, Sanford had finished first in a sixteen candidate primary with 37% of the vote and on this night had handily won the two man run–off with 57% of the vote.
The question now is whether this slightly tarnished Sanford will win the May 7th special election against a Democratic businesswoman from Charleston who is also the sister of left–wing comedian Stephen Colbert.
As this may be the only Congressional election between now and the sure to be ferocious mid–term elections of 2014 this Palmetto State match–up will be seen as a preview of which way the political winds will be blowing next year.
In the course of the evening while vainly hoping to encounter Bob Woodward, or maybe “Campaign Carl” Cameron, I nonetheless gained some fair insight into how local Republicans felt about the current condition of their “Grand Old Party”.
What was most striking to this observer was the startling contrast between the viewpoints of these local republicans and what we hear from “National” GOP Leadership.
The national view seems embodied in the much heralded report recently released by GOP National Chairman Reince Priebus. Based on extensive opinion sampling the report concluded that the GOP needed to dramatically change itself if it was to expand its appeal and prosper in the future.
The national media loved it and hailed the report as a “long overdue breakthrough in an outdated GOP world view” (N.Y. Times). When GOP Senator Rand Paul in a CPAC speech called his party’s outlook “stale and moldy” the media were quick to praise the Kentuckian for his endorsement of their astute reporting.
Further evidence of this “promising GOP awakening” (Chris Matthews, MSNBC) was the widely lauded initiatives of “three respected and pragmatic Republican Senators“ (Washington Post): Rob Portman’s conversion on Gay Marriage, Tom Coburn’s efforts on Gun Control, and Marco Rubio’s work with the “Gang of Eight” on Immigration Reform.
Now anytime the New York Times, MSNBC, and the Washington Post are loudly applauding any GOP initiative, Republicans should recall Homer’s immortal words: “Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts”.
Just such skepticism well describes the unfavorable response to the RNC report of many Republicans across the country including several of those I spoke to in South Carolina.
In order to get a handle on all this, let’s take a look at the three issues alluded to above, and examine them in ascending order of their importance to the GOP and the country.
1. Gay Marriage Unlike gun owners or immigrants Gays are not a large, interest group (about 4% of the population). However the issue of Gay Marriage has a powerful grip on the Liberal Imagination. Support for Gay Marriage in the wake of the pioneering “Evolution” by Obama and the Clintons has become almost mandatory for Democrats (unless up for re–election in a “Red State” next year).
Despite the fact that Gay Marriage was defeated in thirty consecutive state elections (most recently by 61% last year in North Carolina) the media dismisses these polls as “ancient history” and talks only about the two “Blue States” where the issue narrowly prevailed last November. Generally liberals to get what they want here prefer “omniscient” judges to “ignorant” voters.
The media now tell us that new polls show a “dramatic sea change” in public attitudes particularly among the young. A Time magazine cover story declares “Gay Marriage Battle Already Won”.
Given their diminished religious affiliation and the moral vacuum that has overtaken public education the broader support among youth is not surprising. With few exceptions the issue doesn’t affect their lives one way or the other. Hence a benign indifference masquerading as “tolerance” is a comfortable shoe. In his classic The Closing of the American Mind Alan Bloom long ago explained the emergence of Tolerance as the Last Moral Absolute.
All of our experience with longitudinal polling on “Social Issues” (e.g. abortion, capital punishment, sex, and marriage) tells us that despite fluctuations real attitudinal change only occurs very gradually.
Predictions: As long as all organized religion remains opposed to Gay Marriage there will be no stampede in that direction. The law in some places now allows three marital options (man–woman, man–man, and woman–woman) but most Americans will continue to see marriage as it has been viewed for millennia: one man, one woman—only.
The Supreme Court will avoid any sweeping ruling on this matter and artfully bounce the ball back in the direction of the states. Given the forty years of bitter controversy that followed the sweeping abortion decision in Roe vs Wade, this is a smart move.
A few Blue States may in future endorse Gay Marriage. More will stick with the politically safer “civil union” option, but most will remain exactly where they are today until voters send clear new instructions.
The Democrats are now stuck with the burden at being the “Pro–Gay Marriage” Party. Politically this will benefit them much less than they think.
With respect to Messrs, Cheney, Portman, and Kirk they will remain outliers in the GOP. Republicans have nothing to gain by any retreat from principle regarding Traditional Marriage and much to lose should they “evolve”.
GOP opposition to Gay marriage will remain sensitive and civilized but unyielding.
2. Gun Control Like Gay marriage gun control has emerged over time as a cultural, perhaps even psychological imperative for liberals. Accordingly their actions are entirely predictable whenever a mass killing occurs.
Despite the fact that almost every killer has been a young male who had previously been identified as potentially dangerous or even homicidal Democrats have absolutely no interest in challenging the mental health establishment by pushing laws to get such dangerously disturbed individuals off the streets.
Despite clear evidence that shockingly violent video games and films have dangerously desensitizing effect on young males Democrats have absolutely no interest in challenging the Hollywood elites by pushing industry codes to at least limit the obscene levels of blood and gore.
Despite the horrendously high black on black murder rate involving readily available handguns in cities that ban them Democrats—and their media allies—are uncomfortable even mentioning this shameful reality much less seriously addressing it.
Invariably Democratic solutions to gun violence avoid targeting the violent few who are doing the killing and instead target the law–abiding many that are not.
Despite long experience that Democratic solutions from assault weapons bans to background checks have utterly failed to keep guns out of the hands of the lawless the liberal mind remains highly supportive of creating a national bureaucracy to closely investigate Farmer Brown before allowing him to give his son a shotgun for Christmas.
The knee jerk or obsessional nature of this liberal fixation is demonstrated by the fact that every one of these periodic Gun Control Crusades has been a political loser for Democrats.
While Obama crisscrossed the country demanding Congressional action a CNN poll (released April 7) shows a majority of Americans disapproving of his handling of the gun issue. More in touch with political reality is Harry Reid who is rightly worried about requiring his Red State Democrats to cast a vote that could lead to their being replaced by Republicans next year.
While five states have passed seven laws further restricting gun ownership, ten states have passed seventeen laws loosening restrictions (Wall St Journal April 9).
Meanwhile the NRA is being flooded by contributions and new membership applications and sales of guns and ammunition are at record levels.
Prediction: Any Congressional action on guns will be so watered down as to be hardly worth the effort or political risk to Democrats.
3. Immigration Reform On this issue large numbers of Republicans have utterly lost touch with reality and any sense of History.
Their depression over last November’s election results is understandable but their wildly inaccurate interpretation of the results is not. What they have bought into is the Democratic interpretation of those results as amplified by the legendarily biased national media.
The “Myth Agreed Upon” is as follows: Since Hispanic population will continue its dramatic growth far into the future and increasingly vote Democratic Republicans cannot ever hope to win another election unless they wholeheartedly support President Obama’s most reasonable proposals for “comprehensive” immigration reform.
Let us disaggregate the elements of this Myth:
The Hispanic population is not growing dramatically and its rate of growth will be greatly diminished well into the future.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau which—unlike the U.S. Media—carefully distinguishes between “White Hispanics” and “Non-White Hispanics” the birth rate among all U.S. Hispanics is dramatically falling (just as in Mexico and most of Latin America) and beginning to resemble the rest of the U.S. population. The cause of this trend is the usual one: increasing prosperity and wider availability of birth control.
Also the Mexican government reports that falling birth rates and a growing economy have created labor shortages in several areas and that the surplus labor pool that long spurred emigration to the U.S.A. is rapidly diminishing.
Voting Trends The Hispanic vote is not increasingly Democratic. The Republican share of the Hispanic vote went up in 2000 and 2004, down in 2006 and 2008, up in 2010, and down in 2012. This shows clearly that Hispanic voters followed national trends pretty closely, and that Hispanics like everyone else will respond to different conditions and different candidates.
We hear endlessly that the GOP only got 27 % of the Hispanic vote in 2012 and this clearly spells doom for Republicans. Yet in the same election Democrats did almost as badly among white voters but somehow we hear no one suggesting this spells doom for Dems.
Rather than fixating on the 27% figure at the national level Republicans should look to the state and local level where they have been dominant in the last two election cycles. There are a large number of Republicans who did much better than 27% among Hispanics—and without promising Amnesty. How did they do it? Worth a look?
The truth is that the GOP has nothing to gain by abandoning their principles regarding Immigration. They can never outbid the Democrats on this issue. The disastrous 1986 “compromise” should have taught that lesson.
If the Republicans endorsed Amnesty tomorrow it would do little to alter Hispanic voting trends.
Historically American immigrant groups have arrived in the cities, in poverty, often handicapped by language, and correctly perceived the Democratic Party as most reflective of their interests. Over time they prosper, their interests change, and in large numbers they migrate to a Republican Party more in tune with their lives.
Evidence is clear that this process is well under way with Hispanic Americans. Panicky Republicans who think the last train is leaving the station and that Hispanics can be “won” by a welcoming speech and support for a misbegotten law insult the very people they seek to woo.
The GOP should pay more attention to American History and less to a deeply flawed reading of the last election.
William Moloney, Centennial Institute Fellow and former Colorado Education Commissioner, has written for the Wall St. Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post, and Human Events.