Will Changes in the Electorate Sink Romney?
There's a notion floating on the right and left. It goes like this: the electorate has changed so dramatically that it favors President Obama's re-election. Will Mitt Romney be a November victim of generational and demographic tyranny? Or will external factors -- including the president's dismal performance and policies -- impact the electoral equation to Romney's advantage?
Mitt Romney's election strategy needs to account for changes in the electorate, making appeals that resonate with contemporary voters. But an updated appeal doesn't mean Romney should jettison core conservative principles -- just the opposite.
The year 2012 is a golden opportunity for Mitt Romney, entrepreneurs, and enterprising Republicans to expand their party's franchise. The GOP hasn't had a better chance since Jimmy Carter's 1980 failed re-election bid to showcase practical conservative solutions to the nation's problems. In fact, 2012 is a "teachable moment" for voters among key non-Republican constituencies. A teachable moment can be the stuff of a winning moment for the GOP, short- and longer-term.
Despite the propaganda, women, young voters, and Hispanics aren't monolithic. Segments among those cohorts are persuadable. A crippled economy made worse by President Obama's policies, and the president's spendthrift ways, make more than some voters receptive to being taught -- voters who otherwise would be closed to Republican arguments.
Sky-high expectations for Mr. Obama's presidency -- expectations that were ridiculous in the first place -- have pumped up disillusionment with the president. This must be particularly so among Mr. Obama's core constituencies, who comprise more-than-die-hard true believers.
That doesn't mean Romney will win majorities of women, youth, or Hispanics; he doesn't have to. Romney needs to cut into those groups enough to add to his base vote, which helps build majorities in battleground states, like Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia. Yes, Romney needs a robust turnout from his base constituencies; at this time, he'll get that less because of his candidacy than because of any lack of intensity in opposition to Mr. Obama.
The president's main challenge is pumping up his deflated base voters (blacks excepted). In the early going, tellingly, Mr. Obama has spent valuable time appealing to his voters. Or, more aptly, Mr. Obama's campaign, Democratic Party organs, and left-leaning super-PACs have spent time and money trying to drive wedges between women and the GOP, between young voters and Republicans, and between Hispanics and...you guessed it: the GOP.
When an incumbent and his allies spend a lot of resources shoring up base constituencies -- or attempting to reverse base voters' apathy or stop their leakage -- you can bet there's trouble in Dodge.
Certainly, 2012 isn't your parents' 1980. The passage of thirty-two years inevitably brings generational change to the electorate; demographic changes have occurred, too, thanks especially to considerable increases in the nation's Hispanic populations.
But generational and demographic changes ostensibly favoring Democrats don't doom the GOP to minority status. Conservatism isn't about to be shunted off to a dusty corner of the nation's political life. The 2012 election isn't the last chance -- if that -- for the GOP to win the presidency, Congress, and hosts of state offices before constituencies supporting Democrats gain a vise-grip on future elections.
Such ideas have been popularized by Democrat Ruy Teixeira's writings. Teixeira, among others on the left, argues that generational and demographic changes are destiny. Theirs is a deterministic approach to politics, which dovetails nicely with the determinism that constitutes much of the left's worldview.
But life is dynamic and full of variables. Human beings are complex and impacted by externalities. The Republicans' rise in the 1980s -- ushered in by Ronald Reagan -- wasn't inevitable; there was no automatic generational and demographic switch.
The GOP came to dominate the nation's political landscape from the 1980s through the early years of the 21st century through voter repudiation of the Carter years -- and, moreover, through a cumulative reaction to Democratic misrule dating from the 1960s, when President Lyndon Johnson and Democrat Congresses botched things.
Of course, Democratic failures in the 1960s and 1970s alone don't explain the GOP's ascendency. Those failures did serve as catalysts for voter reappraisals of Democratic hegemony, though. Yet Ronald Reagan's policies worked masterfully to revive the economy and re-establish America as pre-eminent in world affairs. Many voters -- remember Reagan Democrats? -- reshaped their voting in reaction to events and to the choices made by the parties and their leaders.
Mitt Romney seems poised to run a Reaganesque campaign. The principles Reagan enunciated in 1980 may be out of fashion among establishment Republicans, but principles aren't subject to fashion; they're subject to tests of time. If Romney sticks to conservative principles and the big themes of his victory speech after last Tuesday's primary victories, he will have done well in building a framework for victory.
Importantly, Romney should target those segments among women, the young, and Hispanics who are ripe for conversion. Un- or underemployment and financial insecurity aren't striking just white working- and middle-class males.
For Republicans, like 1980, 2012 could prove to be a similar critical juncture in the nation's political life -- similar, that is, but not identical.
The real threat to GOP fortunes in 2012 is how much progress Democrats have made in the "Californization" of the country. In other words, have Democrats increased government dependence so much that they've managed to create a sizeable constituency that cuts across demographic, generational, and class differences?
An emerging "Constituency of Dependence" is not just about welfare checks; it's about growing numbers of jobs and livelihoods that are directly or indirectly dependent on government largesse. It's about subsidies, grants, laws, and regulations that sustain businesses (like General Motors) or buoy up industries (like alternative energy) or underwrite colleges and universities. It's about empowering public-sector unions. And it's about lower-income Americans being removed from income tax rolls, thereby upping their stake in government as benefactor.
One suspects that a Constituency of Dependence is less a threat to a Romney victory, or Republican gains, in 2012 than in outlying years. A pro-government majority hasn't likely reached critical mass -- yet.
The economy is Romney's first concern, but to build support and intensity among right-leaning voters, Romney and congressional Republican candidates should unify on a "Project Liberation," as in freeing Americans from big government. Mountains of red tape need to go to recycling bins. Agencies like the EPA and FDA need more than trimming and tweaking; they need radical overhauls, including dramatically downsizing personnel. Social Security and Medicare need reforms that give younger workers roadways to partial private retirement investment.
Industries from energy to agriculture need to be freed from government shackles. Businesses -- small and startup, particularly -- need obstacles removed to power job-creation and serve as magnets for aspiring youths and minorities.
Over all, the default of Romney's campaign needs to be free-market reform -- sweeping, seminal reform that better aligns America with its founding principles and positions the nation to experience a 21st century very different from what Mr. Obama, Ruy Teixeira, and their statist allies envision.
The legacy of a Romney presidency should be the creation of a "Constituency of Independence," chiefly from among younger cohorts and diverse demographic groups -- new stakeholders in the old and ongoing experiment in liberty.