The latest liberal to proclaim the end of the GOP is the New Republic’s Nate Cohn. Cohn points to a new Pew survey out on the GOP that finds that a majority of the GOP agrees the party needs to change but they disagree on the particulars of how to do so. For example, a majority of the party wants the GOP to shift its stance on immigration and economic issues. They understand the question concepts of more to the right or left but in terms of particular public policy options, voters split.
Cohn cites the GOP’s stances on immigration, gay marriage, and abortion as reasons why the GOP is “screwed” in 2016. On marriage, 31% of party voters want the GOP to moderate, 27% want it to move to the right and 33% were happy with the party’s stance. On abortion, 25% want the party to moderate, 26% to move to the right and 44% think it has the right stance. On immigration, 17% want the party to moderate but 36% want it to move to the right. This is not surprising on an issue like immigration where Democrats and Republicans have deep issues over what is the priority; border security vs. amnesty.
Cohn then contends outside of the issues the party’s actual voters are the problem. According to Pew, a full 49% of Republicans who participate in primaries support the Tea Party and only 22% of primary going Republicans identify as moderate. Do keep in mind the survey was extremely small at less than 500 Republicans and Republican leaning independents.
Survey methodology aside, Cohn makes several broad assumptions outside the polling data. First, he assumes by 2016 that gay marriage will be a salient issue to GOP primary and general election voters. Maybe to evangelical voters (though to what degree is less clear with an age split on the issue) in the primaries but not very likely in the general election thanks to the Supreme Court and numerous petitions in state courts.
Second, Cohn assumes the party needs to move left on abortion. But does it? The Democratic “War on women” charge in 2012 gets lots of credit for handing Obama female voters but this is highly dubious. It could be Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock’s comments on rape made the discussion on abortion turn to rape. Not actual abortion. Furthermore, numerous national polls have shown the public sides with the GOP stance of banning late-term abortions at five months. It is doubtful strongly liberal, pro-choice women are the ones siding with the GOP in the surveys.
Finally, on immigration, Cohn assumes the GOP needs 40-50% of the Hispanic vote to win an election. Both Sean Trende and Harry Enten have shown the GOP could possibly win the White House in 2016 if they attract for non-college educated white voters to the party and minority turnout drops a sliver.
There are also unknown variables to consider. Obama is a mere eight months into his second term and his job approval ratings are stuck at a mere 45-46%. Those kinds of numbers do not bode well for the rest of his term. So if Obama is unpopular when he leaves office he could leave voters with a sour taste on their mouths and they might plug their noses and vote for the GOP candidate (2010 anybody).
Cohn discusses none of this however (maybe he had an article word limit). Instead, he summarizes his article by stating, “Given today’s numbers and Mitt Romney’s difficulty securing the nomination, it’s highly unclear whether Republicans could nominate a candidate who wants to moderate the party. And if the primary process is unlikely to yield a candidate who can moderate the party, then the Republican House would be wise to preemptively bail out the next Republican candidate, and relieve them of the obligation to oppose a pathway to citizenship, background checks on gun purchases, or whatever else. That doesn’t look like it will happen. Instead, it looks like Republicans will need to count on the appeal of their 2016 presidential candidate and economic fundamentals to overcome the party’s limited appeal.”
This is yet another assumption, or actually set of assumptions. The GOP needs to vote for gun control (FYI, the NRA’s approval numbers are higher than Obama’s), support a pathway and a pathway for citizenship (that Senate bill is so popular it makes blacks squeamish).
In short, Cohn’s entire argument is conjecture and based on a set of biased, ideological positions. This would not be so bad if Cohn did not call himself a non-partisan analyst. Yet, polling data on guns, abortion, and guns show the public is not uniformly against the GOP position nor for it either.
Lastly, Cohn does acknowledge the GOP nominee could dig the party out of its hole. True. A Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Maroc Rubio, etc. could give the party a new direction. Bill Clinton did it for Democrats in 1992, Obama did it for the Left in 2008. if 2016 follows prior political script (really hard for a party to win three Presidential elections in a row) the next GOP nominee will not just remake his/her party but give the party a new direction.