In the last national election cycle, the Republican losses obviously counted, but so too did the way in which they lost. GOP candidates, party officials later acknowledged, were catering to an increasingly narrow part of the population. The Republican Party’s base was getting older, whiter, and male-dominated.
GOP strategists were determined to change the party’s focus. They failed spectacularly.
Steve Schmidt, who served as Republican Sen. John McCain’s top strategist in the 2008 presidential election, said it’s problematic for the GOP to be seen as intolerant, particularly with moderate voters who help sway the general election.“Of course it’s worrisome if you have a party that’s perceived as anti-Latino, anti-Asian, anti-gay, intolerant of Muslims,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt’s correct that the party’s problems are exacerbated by perceptions of intolerance and exclusivity, and this doesn’t just alienate Latinos, Asians, Muslims, and the LGBT community. It also has the effect of pushing away white mainstream voters who start to see Republicans as wildly out of step with a diverse, modern nation.
On Friday, for example, President Obama nominated Eric Fanning as the next Secretary of the Army. No one has questioned Fanning’s qualifications, but GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee condemned the nomination because Fanning is gay. “It’s clear President Obama is more interested in appeasing America’s homosexuals than honoring America’s heroes,” the Republican said, adding, “Homosexuality is not a job qualification. The U.S. military is designed to keep Americans safe and complete combat missions, not conduct social experiments.”
It’s an “Archie Bunker” posture in a “Modern Family” world.
Of course, the broader point is that the campaign to create a small-tent party isn’t limited to Huckabee. Ben Carson doesn’t think Muslims can be president. Donald Trump vowed last week that he’s “going to be looking into” non-existent Muslim “training camps.” Bobby Jindal said this morning that a Muslim could be president, but only if he or she took the oath of office on a Christian Bible.
It’s against this backdrop that many Republicans want to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood funding. And condemn the Black Lives Matter movement while ignoring the need for a Voting Rights Act repair. And push over-the-top talking points about “anchor babies” and mass deportations.
After the 2012 cycle, Republican officials concluded, “Our party is too small.” To which the GOP’s driving forces spent three years responding, “Let’s make it smaller and more reactionary.”
All of which brings us back to that Steve Schmidt quote: “Of course it’s worrisome if you have a party that’s perceived as anti-Latino, anti-Asian, anti-gay, intolerant of Muslims.”
The GOP presidential nominating process has several months to go. There’s every reason to believe the most “worrisome” developments are still to come.