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The dinosaurification of the GOP is an opportunity, not a victory

by Eric Ferguson on November 12, 2012

OK, the election is over. We got to bask in a pretty good result for a few days, but now it’s time to get back to work. All that we really won was… no really, I mean it. What we really won hey, come on. We’ve got to.. You know, it’s been almost a week.

Oh fine, but just one more time:

OK, got it out of your systems? Good. What I was trying to say was we didn’t win anything on election night but an opportunity. We didn’t win a policy fight, just a chance to win a policy fight. We didn’t expand anyone’s rights, but just played successful defense of rights. I’m not saying it wasn’t a big deal to beat those noxious amendments. It was a big stop. Since our president likes to use sports metaphors, I guess I can say that we made a successful goal line stand with the ball starting on the goal line, which is a huge bit of defense, but it just stops a score. It doesn’t score points for us. Even the Democratic-favoring demographic trends that seem to causing the dinosaurification of the GOP are really just an opportunity, not a certainty. That stuff about demographics being destiny — I don’t buy it.
I’m not denying the demographic trends favoring Democrats. I’m fully aware non-whites are growing as a portion of the population and voting heavily Democratic. Whites are just a few decades from becoming a plurality. Republicans won 60% of the white vote and it wasn’t enough. Obama’s 39% of the white vote is probably a floor as well as being enough to eke out a win. Young voters have been Democratic by a large margin for several elections now, and the oldest of the young voters should be hitting early middle age soon, with a likely increase in their frequency of voting. The Christian majority is shrinking, non-Christians are heavily Democratic, especially non-religious people (the so-called “nones”), which are 20% and growing the fastest.

So why shouldn’t we assume we’ll never lose again?

Voters who vote for the same party their first several elections tend to stick with that party, and many of the blueish demographic groups are in their first few elections, both young voters and new citizens. So their blueishness isn’t set yet. They need to be secured, and Republicans might be smart enough to figure out they should try to win them over instead of attacking them. I doubt that too, and I sure don’t expect it in the next week, but once they get “51% of Americans our stupid people who want to take our stuff and destroy our values” out of their system, maybe. So we don’t have these groups yet, just a chance to win them over and make their liberal tendencies a habit. In fact, as DFLers engage in the debate that has already broken out about whether the legislature should move on marriage equality right away, or later, or at all, one argument for moving right away is young voters are heavily for it. Swing voters might not be ready, but they’re always going to swing. We can gain a permanent advantage among current young voters by moving on their agenda, even if some swing voters swing away one election as a result — assuming it’s even true this issue will cause temporary political damage.

Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting young voters are the only group to worry about. They’re an example. Nor do I suggest they care only about marriage equality. That’s just an example too. The point is we don’t have these groups in the habit of voting Democratic yet, but merely a much better chance than the Republicans have, provided we consciously move to secure their support and don’t assume the Republicans will keep pushing them our way. Even if the Republicans can’t win a majority among them, they might increase their minority, and by holding a big majority of whites, that’s enough to win.

Not to take a tangent into details, but it seems worth pointing out that when I was a young voter, my age group tended to vote Republican — and they still do. So they’re not ours forever regardless of what we do. We have to earn their support, and there is always a new group of new voters to be won over.

But that’s just considering demographics. In terms of policy, as current politics changes, there are short term opportunities. Ironically, by putting those amendments on the Minnesota ballot, the Republicans offered us the opportunity to make immediate gains in both gay rights and voting rights. We knew that support for marriage equality, and gay rights in general, was growing, but by putting the anti-marriage amendment on the ballot, Republicans allowed us to discover that the pro-gay rights side seems to have reached a majority. There’s a chance to put progress into legislation, if we do it now.

Likewise, the photo ID proponents have shown us something. The tiny bit of real fraud turns out to be illegal registering and voting by former felons whose rights haven’t yet been restored. Most cases of illegal voting get dropped for lack of proof the former felon knew they couldn’t vote. At least among those whose cases were dismissed, clearly the current rules aren’t clear. That also begs the question of how much it goes the other way, former felons whose rights have been restored stay away from the polls because they’re unsure and don’t want to risk it, or mistakenly feel sure they can’t vote.

Those are intended as examples of policy opportunities, which is why I’m not getting deeply into details. Just showing the point that the election results, and our current circumstances, give us a chance to move on policy matters and on confirming the demographic advantages. Forgive me non-sports fans for continuing the sports metaphors, but we haven’t won the game or scored points yet. We’ve merely won a chance to go on offense. Unfortunately, the tendency of winners is to think they’ve won it all and get complacent, while losers tend to get energized.

I will go off on one tangent though. Just like the Republicans, if they can get past ideological rigidity, might cut into our majorities with growing groups, why can’t we speed along the dinosaurification of the GOP by cutting into the white vote? Since we know Republicans have to build up their majority of the white vote in case they can’t increase their minority of the non-white vote, if we can win more white voters away, we put Republicans are a huge disadvantage (and it might behoove us to figure out why the national white vote dropped from 2008. Likewise if we can cut into their majority of male voters and older voters and Christian voters. Not that I have the immediate answer to doing just that, but as a matter of political strategy, I like going after Republican-leaning groups over waiting for our demographic advantages to just show up and carry us.

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