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The Botox Solution

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Posted on Dec 13, 2012
DonkeyHotey (CC BY 2.0)

By Jeremiah Goulka, TomDispatch

This piece originally appeared at TomDispatch. Read Tom Engelhardt’s introduction here.

Mitt Romney had hardly conceded before Republicans started fighting over where to head next.  Some Republicans—and many Democrats—now claim that the writing is on the wall: demography is destiny, which means the GOP is going the way of the Whigs and the Dodo.  Across the country, they see an aging white majority shrinking as the U.S. heads for the future as a majority-minority country and the Grand Old Party becomes the Gray Old Party.  Others say: not so fast.

In the month since 51% of the electorate chose to keep Barack Obama in the White House, I’ve spent my time listening to GOP pundits, operators, and voters.  While the Party busily analyzes the results, its leaders and factions are already out front, pushing their own long-held opinions and calling for calm in the face of onrushing problems.

Do any of their proposals exhibit a willingness to make the kind of changes the GOP will need to attract members of the growing groups that the GOP has spent years antagonizing like Hispanics, Asian Americans,  unmarried women, secular whites, and others?  In a word: no.

Instead, from my informal survey, it looks to this observer (and former Republican) as if the party is betting all its money on cosmetic change.  Think of it as the Botox Solution.  It wants to tweak its talking points slightly and put more minority and female Republicans on stage as spokespeople.  Many in the GOP seem to believe that this will do the trick in 2014 and beyond. Are they deluded?

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You’ve heard the expression “putting lipstick on a pig,” haven’t you?

The Blame Game and the Short-Term Outlook

Although most Republicans see hints of future demographic challenges in the exit polls, many prefer to focus on other factors to explain Romney’s loss out of a desire not to “blow up the party if there are less radical solutions.”  (Hence, the delusional quality of so many of their post-mortems and the lack of interest in meaningful change.)

First, they cite the Romney factor: a weak candidate, too moderate—or too conservative—who failed to fight the Obama campaign’s early efforts to paint him as an out-of-touch plutocrat.  In other words, his history (Bain Capital and Romneycare) depth-charged him before demographics could even kick in.  He was, unfortunately, the perfect quarter-billionaire candidate for a Democratic narrative that the GOP is only out for the rich and doesn’t “care about people like me.” (He predictably lost that exit poll question by a margin of 81% to 18%).  Running a “vulture capitalist” (and a Mormon) drove a number of Republican voters to stay home or even—gasp!—vote for Obama. It’s a mistake that won’t be repeated in 2016.

Second, they point to the Obama factor.  In both 2008 and 2012, he attracted unprecedented levels of minority and young voters, a phenomenon that might not be repeated in 2016.  Some Republican operatives are also convinced that his campaign simply had a much better “ground game” and grasp of how to employ technology to turn out voters. (Half of self-identifying Republican voters think, as they did in 2008, that Obama simply stole the election through registration fraud involving African Americans.)

Third, they emphasize the powers of incumbency.  Romney only became the presumptive front-runner because the GOP’s A-list —mostly too young in any case—feared the huge advantage an incumbent president enjoys and stayed home. 2016, they swear, will be different.  Nor do they seem to fear a reprise of the 2008 and 2012 primary circuses because the A-listers in 2016, they insist, will all have well-established conservative bona fides and won’t have to bend over backwards to cultivate the conservative base.

Trying to appeal to the Right while facing various nutcase candidates, Romney shot himself in both feet, labeling himself a “severe conservative” and staking an extreme anti-immigration position.  George W. Bush, on the other hand, could run as a “compassionate conservative” in 2000 because his street cred on the Right was unchallengeable.  Indeed, Paul Ryan is already talking up “compassion,” while Ted Cruz, the new (extreme) senator from Texas, is hawking “opportunity conservatism.”

Fourth, there is the perceived success of Republicans other than Romney, particularly in what white Republicans call the “Heartland.”  GOP operatives are still angry at Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock for losing two gimme Senate seats to the Dems by “saying stupid things” (in the words of Bobby Jindal, Louisiana governor and frequent visitor to Iowa), and they wonder how they lost in Montana and North Dakota.


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