Contributed by Log Cabin Republicans activist James Driscoll:
Demographic trends are worse for Republicans than they realize. 72% of voters in the recent election were white, but around 40% of white women are single and lean democratic. Factor in the widespread disaffection of younger voters with Republican stands on social issues and it get's worse. Factor in alienated Hispanics and gays and it gets desperate. There simply are not enough older, white evangelical or Catholic married voters to make a national majority.
The most startling pro-Obama shift in the electorate has been largely overlooked: the Asian vote. In 2008 Obama won 60% of Asian voters; in 2012 their numbers grew and so did his share, 75%. Why so? Most Asians are natural Republicans--higher income, small business people, conservative family structures etc. Nonetheless, Republicans send image-messages that ignore and alienate these potential supporters.
Many gays, often higher income small business people, are also potential Republicans. 5% of voters self-identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual: Obama got 68% in 2008. His share rose to 73% in 2012. Likewise, Obama got 67 % of Hispanics on his first run and 71% in the second. Asians, Hispanics, gays and single women are all growing in numbers and moving in mass away from the GOP.
Some Republicans believe the remedy for their demographic quandary lies in pandering to the presumed biases of Hispanics. Grant their undocumented immigrants amnesty, stir prejudice against gays, address them in the Spanish language. These approaches slight the intelligence of Hispanics and ignore the plain fact that, like other Americans, Hispanic’s most urgent concerns are jobs and the economy. Hispanics want respect and opportunity, not pandering.
The Romney-Ryan ticket focused on message and ignored image. It failed to recognize that for many voters image is message; indeed, image is the most trustworthy message. Remember all those conservative Catholics who went for Kennedy in 1960 but switched to Reagan in 1980? Today’s voters will listen to policy messages as they did in 80. But if image sends the wrong message, they will overlook policy to vote for the image that sends a message they like, as millions did in 2012.
Image works at a subliminal level below the surface verbal arguments, it does not often lie. Romney’s passing over Marco Rubio and Susan Martinez for Paul Ryan was a classic image blunder. Romney chose the image he was comfortable with, rather than the image that appealed to the new voters he needed. Kennedy and Reagan, the two most revered presidents of the last sixty years, secured the White House by resisting this temptation.
The Romney Ryan image flashed a subliminal “square white males only” message to Hispanics, Asians, gays and single women. Every voter likes to be asked for his/her vote. Romney compounded his image-message blunder by not bothering (or condescending) to ask these groups. He recruited few staff from among them, neglected to designate liaisons to them, and avoided their distinctive concerns. Voters realize that candidates who ignore opportunities to reach out to emerging communities lack the resourcefulness and leadership necessary to implementing constructive change.
Passing over Rubio and Martinez for Ryan cast doubt on Romney’s political judgment along with that of the clueless establishment Republicans who thought Ryan was just right. Wake up! Two super straight, ultra-square white males do not send an inclusion image-message in today’s America. Assuming otherwise shows just how out of touch the Republican white male establishment is.
Romney needed a running mate who would welcome Hispanics, Asians, gays and single women into a big tent 21st century GOP. Instead he chose Paul Ryan whose severe Catholic morality bizarrely yoked to a jejune Ayn Rand ideology evoked a past these new voters wanted to leave behind.
The choice of Ryan ignored the powerful messages the candidates’ image sends, even as it spurned demographic facts. Republicans need to start asking themselves, will this candidate send welcoming or alienating image-messages to Hispanics, Asians, gays and single women? Can she/he become a big tent star, or is he/she just another pup tent T party cheerleader?
The Republican Party has winning policy messages that America needs to hear and heed. But to actually win a majority of voters will require candidates whose image is a message of welcome to all Americans.
James Driscoll, Ph.D., was a Bush appointee to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV-AIDS, is a former AIDS Policy Advisor to Log Cabin Republicans and is a member of Broward County Log Cabin Republicans.