Can the GOP be saved from its obsession with the 1950s?

An interesting story in this weekend’s New York Times about how, from technology to social issues, the Republican party is stuck in the past, and it’s hurting them in elections, increasingly so.  This article has been flying around Democratic Netroots-types as a “must read” all weekend.  I’ll walk you through some of the most interesting parts.

A good part of the article focused on how further ahead Democrats were than Republicans in using new technology – the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, for campaigns.  Just look at the blogosphere, or the larger Netroots, really.  Before 2004, I’m told, Republicans were ahead of us in blog power.  Then in 2004 that turned around and it was Democrats in the lead, far in the lead, and we never looked back.

Look at the larger Netroots.  The Republicans never built their own MoveOn.  We never how several MoveOn-style off-shoots on the left.  Change.org started as a progressive organization, though now it’s apparently changed its mind (the allure of profit does that – sadly, life does often seem more lucrative on the dark side of the force).  And even look at sites like Reddit which, to my eye at least, certainly seem to lean left in terms of the overall community and the kind of stories that make it to the top.

Republican sign via Shutterstock

Republican sign via Shutterstock

Interestingly, the same story seems to replicate itself abroad.  I’ve done a good amount of consulting and public speaking in Europe, and in country after country, from Spain to Greece to Sweden, you hear about how the left has left the right behind in the dust in terms of using technology for politics.

Some of the reason might be that, for whatever reason, young people, today more than ever, tend to lean more to the left to than to the right.  The NYT reporter went with a 28-year-old GOP pollster to Ohio to do a focus group.  The focus group was made up of young, 20-something middle class voters who voted for Obama but don’t consider themselves committed Democrats.

They started with the women, wrote a word on a blackboard, and ask them to free associate:

The first word she wrote was “Democrat.”

“Young people,” one woman called out.

“Liberal,” another said. Followed by: “Diverse.” “Bill Clinton.”“Change.”“Open-minded.”“Spending.”“Handouts.”“Green.”“More science-based.”

When Anderson then wrote “Republican,” the outburst was immediate and vehement: “Corporate greed.”“Old.”“Middle-aged white men.” “Rich.” “Religious.” “Conservative.” “Hypocritical.” “Military retirees.” “Narrow-minded.” “Rigid.” “Not progressive.” “Polarizing.” “Stuck in their ways.” “Farmers.”

Then they wrote the word “Republican”:

“Let’s talk about Republicans,” she said. “What if anything could they do to earn your vote?”

A self-identified anti-abortion, “very conservative” 27-year-old Obama voter named Gretchen replied: “Don’t be so right wing! You know, on abortion, they’re so out there. That all-or-nothing type of thing, that’s the way Romney came across. And you know, come up with ways to compromise.”

Then they tried the men:

The session with the young men was equally jarring. None of them expressed great enthusiasm for Obama. But their depiction of Republicans was even more lacerating than the women’s had been. “Racist,” “out of touch” and “hateful” made the list — “and put ‘1950s’ on there too!” one called out.

"Why yes, we do vote Republican!" via Shutterstock

“Why yes, we do vote Republican!” (via Shutterstock)

The 1950s.  And isn’t that the point.  The Republicans are trying so hard to get America back to the 1950s, when the number of Americans interested in living in the 1950s continues to dwindle, and most definitely isn’t found among younger voters.

The article then tied this turning-off of young people to the GOP’s problem with using technology.  In a nutshell, if young people don’t like you, they don’t want to work for you.  And guess who understand new technology the best?  Young people.

Several G.O.P. digital specialists told me that, in addition, they found it difficult to recruit talent because of the values espoused by the party. “I know a lot of people who do technology for a living,” Turk said. “And almost universally, there’s a libertarian streak that runs through them — information should be free, do your own thing and leave me alone, that sort of mind-set. That’s very much what the Internet is. And almost to a person that I’ve talked to, they say, ‘Yeah, I would probably vote for Republicans, but I can’t get past the gay-marriage ban, the abortion stance, all of these social causes.’ Almost universally, they see a future where you have more options, not less. So questions about whether you can be married to the person you want to be married to just flies in the face of the future. They don’t want to be part of an organization that puts them squarely on the wrong side of history.”

In another part of the article, they were talking about how to get GOP candidates to talk about social issues in a way that won’t alienate voters.  The part about gay marriage really fascinated me:

Proximus seeks to marginalize the more strident talking heads by offering itself up to — or if necessary, forcing itself upon — the party as a 21st-century mouthpiece. “If I were training a candidate who’s against gay marriage,” Cupp told me, “I’d say: ‘Don’t change your beliefs, just say legislatively this is not a priority, and I’m not going to take away someone’s right. And if abortion or gay marriage is your No. 1 issue, I’m not your guy.’”

So they’re telling Republicans who are against gay marriage to basically give up entirely on the issue. The “spin” they’re teaching the candidates isn’t meant to trick independents into accept the GOP’s conservative views, it’s meant to trick the far right that controls the Republican party into accepting defeat.

It’s an amazing overview of how far the Republican party has fallen.

Having said all of that, you get to a certain age in politics where you’ve heard the doom and gloom story more than enough to know that people’s, and party’s, fortunes change.  The big question is whether this is a momentarily downward glitch the Republicans are facing, or whether their orneriness, and their love of the past, has put them on the cusp of becoming a permanent minority, at least in presidential elections.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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