GOP – Geriatric old party: Republicans better find some new blood fast
I was at the Iowa Straw Poll in Ames this past summer. While out in the vast parking lots of the Hilton Coliseum that morning, holding a Ron Paul sign, I noticed all the campaign workers from the Romney and Tancredo camps riding golf carts to and from their respective tents to the parking lots.
What were these people doing I wondered? They certainly weren’t making the parking attendants happy as they were cutting through traffic.
It wasn’t until the middle of the day that I figured it out. They were transporting their elderly supporters from the parking lots to the Coliseum.
It was the proper thing to do. After all it was 96 degrees that day and very humid. No one would want grandma or grandpa to die of heat exhaustion trying to make their way across all that hot asphalt.
But it laid in stark reality the biggest problem the Republican Party is facing in 2008 and beyond.
It’s not Larry Craig. It’s not Iraq. It’s not corruption. It’s not Katrina, or religious conservatives or even immigration.
The GOP is literally getting older by the minute.
And that means it’s a slowly dying party.
It’s something that’s been measured in polling data. A recent Democracy Corps poll shows young voters turning away from the GOP (especially if they are minorities). It’s measured in speeches that its leading politicians have made, like Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent speech to the California State GOP Convention. And it’s also measured in anecdote: like the poor turnouts at GOP straw polls in Texas and Iowa or the downward trend in the number of GOP caucus goers in Iowa (in 1988 they had over 100,000 voters and in 2000 they had just 87,000 voters). Heck, go to a local GOP precinct or county organization meeting and count the number of middle aged or elderly faces. Maybe it’s due to a demoralized base not wanting to give its money or time to a party that they feel is going to be clobbered in 2008. Or maybe it’s just because there are many Republicans who just aren’t with us anymore.
I asked a reporter from Reason Magazine who was at the Straw Poll to find the median age of a Romney supporter and compare it to that of a Ron Paul supporter. The differences may well be striking.
It’s usually a cycle of Republican politics that every so often a candidate comes around that excites young voters and thereby transforms the party itself. Young Wendell Wilkie and his gang of youthful bond traders, bankers and magazine publishers helped push him to the GOP nomination in 1940. In 1963, Barry Goldwater’s campaign was launched when his forces took over the Young Republican organization. In the 1980s, many young voters identified with Ronald Reagan. Now here’s Ron Paul in 2007 energizing young voters and more than just the College Republican types.
In Rick Pearlstein’s book Before the Storm, which chronicled the Goldwater campaign, there was a line that said “the conservative movement was the youth movement of the 1960s,” and no doubt many young conservatives and libertarians got their first baths of politics in that campaign: Dana Rohrbacher, Howard Phillips, Justin Raimondo, Phillys Schlafly, even one Ed Failor Sr. the father of Ron Paul’s Iowa nemesis Ed Failor Jr., to name a few. Heck, a youthful Hilary Clinton was a Goldwater Girl. Many of the few young faces in Republican leadership of today got their start in Reagan’s campaigns in the 1980s. This is how politics always renews itself. One generation replaces the old.
The problem is there is no rising generation within the GOP, outside of Paul’s campaign, that’s clearly behind one candidate and certainly not one that represents a broader movement in American politics. If you did a cross section of the party by age, you would probably find that the 60’s generation would be in the majority, still doing their penance. They would be followed by those remaining World War II-Silent Generation members and the Reganites of Generation X. But there would be a big drop off after the members of my generation X.
Right now the Republican Party really doesn’t have anything to offer Millenials and this was before Katrina and the fiasco in Iraq. That’s why most of them voted for Kerry. And if you look at them closely you can see why. They’re more diverse and socially tolerant than previous generations. Twenty-plus years of multicultural education will do that you. Then add in a record of GOP failure similar to that of the Depression and you can see why the Republicans are not their favorite party right now. Plus, given how advanced youngsters are with modern technology like IPods or You Tube, how could they support a party that has shown itself to be indifferent to almost hostile to such technology. Canceling and rescheduling the GOP’s You Tube debate because certain candidates didn’t want to be interviewed by snowmen may seem rational from someone over 30 but not those under. GOP webmaster Patrick Ruffini is often beside himself because he knows he’s in a party whose members view technology the same way cavemen would view a flying saucer if it landed in front of them.
Plus, and let us be honest here, we see how the GOP’s youth drain affects the party’s stand on immigration. New arrivals tend to have more kids than majority whites right now and the balance of power is slowly but steadily tipping towards the Democrats. Whites keep dying off, newcomers keep coming or are being born. Don’t think for a moment that the move towards amnesty on the part of the White House or Republican strategists like Karl Rove of former RNC Jeff Mehlman had nothing to do with this demographic trend.
The Ron Paul campaign can tip that balance in the other direction, because it’s a campaign that has broken with the GOP’s recent past and has emphasized a message of freedom and peace that does excite young people. And it’s a diverse crowd of youngsters from skater punks to blue-blazer types. All find something about Paul’s message that they like or identify with. Nor is Paul, who is the oldest candidate in the field at 72 years old, the only aged candidate that young people have identified with in the past. An advanced Ronal Reagan did very well with young voters because he never lost his boyish optimism (nor had any gray hair) and thus never acted old. Hell, he once invited Michael Jackson over to the White House. Paul may come across as a goofy old uncle, but many kids love their goofy old uncles.
But more than just age, all the aforementioned candidates that rode waves of young voters to the GOP nomination, did so because they had new messages or at least those that seemed new at the time. That seemed fresh and concise compared to what the party elders were saying. Maybe Paul couldn’t beat a Hilary Clinton in a general election, but what Republican out there can? Wouldn’t it be better, if the GOP is going to go down, to go down with man of principle and character? Wouldn’t it be better to go down with a candidate that’s drawn thousands of new voters to his cause and who provide new blood into sclerotic party organizations the way Wilkie, Goldwater and Reagan did? All three of these candidates took advantage of the decrepit status of the GOP in their times and transformed them into new, invigorated parties. Why can’t Paul do the same given the similar status of today’s GOP?
The Republicans are in desperate need of a new spirit to infuse life and vitality in their ranks, whether its 50,000 meetup.com members to 125,000 individual donors to the Ron Paul campaign. If they turn their backs on these voters now, they’ll never see them again, ever.
“Published originally at EtherZone.com : republication allowed with this notice and hyperlink intact.”