If the recently concluded legislative debate over “Add the Words” legislation proved anything it showed that the GOP just cannot win the younger generation on cultural issues. Note I said cultural issues. On social issues such as abortion the GOP does relatively well though they still manage to find ways to turn support for their views into opposition. More on that in a minute.
Struggles on cultural issues is a new phenomenon for the GOP. The party once found fertile ground in the 80s and 90s to play up cultural issues of crime and race. But now, with the party facing a new generation of voters the same set of issues that once appealed, and still do, to a shrinking and older voting base does not appeal to Millennials, the most diverse and largest generation since the baby boomers.
The examples of GOP struggles are legion. Virtually every analyst knows the GOP struggles with younger voters. But why? The answer is the party’s stance on gay marriage, marijuana legalization, LBGT rights and yes, even abortion. Witness the statements on rape and abortion of former Congressman Todd Akin (MO) and Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock. Their candidacies imploded in 2012 in sure win red states. When the GOP moved away from these issues a mere two years later they were successful.
I am not advocating for the GOP to become more culturally liberal pro-choice. It just is not going to happen. But the way the party discusses cultural issues say a lot as well. In Idaho, the GOP has been so dominant these issues are of little consequence. The state’s strongly conservative bent combined with its unusual number of SoCal transplants and Mormons have given the GOP a strong base to build on. But even the base’s support has limits.
Go back to 2012 and witness the GOP bill that would have required trans-vaginal ultrasounds before an abortion and the base, particularly fiscally conservative GOP women, rose up in arms. The result was the bill dying. Yet, in Idaho today, we still have proponents of such bills. Senator Nuxoll has tried every session to bring a similar bill back and Representatives Lynn Luker and Brent Crane have made it clear they support such stringent legislation. I am pretty sure the rape inclusion thing also cost the Congressional GOP a bill that would have banned abortion at five months. Many of the Caucus’s moderates and women turned against the bill and it was pulled.
Of course abortion is more a social issue as I said above. But it still needs to be recognized as an example of the GOP’s tone deafness when it comes to politically sensitive issues. Here in Idaho for nine years the GOP refused to allow an ATW hearing. When they did last month not a single Republican voted for a bill that read like it was written by a conservative. Already, the GOP’s foolishness on social issues has had an impact here in Idaho.
Metro Boise has become permanently blue. Where before 2006 the city was known for both moderate and Democratic Republicans in its ranks it now has only Democrats. Redistricting only cemented this trend along with younger, more upscale voters moving into the city and moving its districts further to the left. Of course, these voters would probably have naturally gravitated to the left but the lean of the city would not have become so pronounced so quickly. Consider that an openly gay Republican ran for a House seat in former swing D-18 and he lost by 30%.
Republicans have done much better both nationally and here in Idaho when they stay on the topic of fiscal issues. Tax cuts that benefit the majority of taxpayers and fiscal austerity have a nice ring to them that appeals to many voters. Further, smart governance allows the state to appropriately bump the budgets of state agencies and schools. Notably, Democrats ran centrists in 2010 and 2014 for Governor who did not call for higher taxes and they still lost.
Today, Idaho is a red state. But give it 10 or 20 years when most Millennials have reached political maturity and Idaho could lose a lot of its redness. Not all at once, but ever so slowly, if the Idaho GOP does not adapt to political realities they will find themselves losing their grip on the state. Nationally, the party could find itself cast into the political wilderness for a generation.