BOSTON, Massachusetts — Mitt Romney’s presidential defeat exposed the growing gulf between his Republican Party and minorities, a trend conservatives must reverse if they want to take back the White House.
Every demographic minority, not to mention the largest voting bloc of all — women — voted heavily in favor of President Barack Obama as he swept to re-election victory Tuesday, exit polls showed.
The question ought not to be why Romney lost but how Republicans did not see — or chose to ignore — these trendlines as a firewall to their candidate’s chances, and what they can do to broaden party appeal in 2016 and beyond.
Republican US Senator Marco Rubio, a key lawmaker in the now-stalled negotiations over how to legalize the nation’s estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants, wasted no time acknowledging the party’s quandary, particularly with regard to Hispanics.
“The conservative movement should have particular appeal to people in minority and immigrant communities who are trying to make it, and Republicans need to work harder than ever to communicate our beliefs to them,” said the Cuban-American lawmaker, already a possible frontrunner for 2016.
That mission has been a failure in recent years. Obama dominated Hispanics, the largest ethnic minority in America, 71-27, according to exit polls. The figure was even higher among Asians (73 percent) and blacks (93 percent).
Romney pledged on the campaign trail to work for comprehensive immigration reform, but he has largely opposed broad paths to citizenship for undocumented workers, and his suggestion during the Republican primaries that illegal immigrants “self-deport” became a rallying cry against him.
Minority voters instead pulled the lever for the incumbent, who in his victory speech distilled the essence of the American dream for the country’s melting-pot electorate.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white, or Hispanic or Asian or Native American, or young or old, or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight — you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try,” the country’s first African American president said.
The Republican base of white voters is contracting. College-educated whites are turning increasingly Democratic and the percentage of Americans living in the Republican rural heartlands is also shrinking.
An electorate that was 90 percent white in 1976 was only 76 percent white in 2008, and is now estimated to drop to about 46 percent white by 2050 as the minority vote soars into the majority.
“The Republican Party is rowing against the tide of demographic change in the United States,” history professor Allan Lichtman of American University told AFP, who laid out nothing short of a doomsday scenario for conservatives.
“If Republicans fail to expand their demographic base they will disappear as surely as the Whigs that they replaced in the 1850s,” he said, referring to the party plagued by internal divisions on the issue of slavery.
Republican talk show host Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas who ran for president as a social conservative in 2008, made the rather uncomfortable observation Tuesday that “Republicans have done a pathetic job of reaching out to people of color.”
“It’s a group of people that frankly should be with us based on the real policy of conservativism,” he said on Fox News. “But Republicans have acted as if they can’t get the vote, so they don’t try.”
Christopher Arterton, professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, said Republicans suffered through an “identity crisis election” that highlighted their difficulty in cobbling together minority and youth votes.
If Republicans want to continue competing, they “will have to address the kinds of issues and culture clashes that are energizing young people,” he said.
That means laying off of the social issues agenda advanced by Christian conservatives and evangelicals, said 16-year-old Nick Stoddington, who attended the Romney election night party with his father.
On issues like abortion or gay marriage, “we just need to not take such an extreme stance,” Stoddington said, highlighting the defeat of two Republican Senate candidates who made what many considered to be outrageous comments about rape and abortion in the run up to Tuesday’s election.
“It makes our party too far to the right to the point where others don’t want to join.”