by Rod D. Martin
January 1, 2016
We are constantly told of the demographic Armageddon that must shortly befall the Republican Party. But what if a different sort of realignment – a Republican one – comes first?
This may sound like crazy talk, I know. But it always does, right before it happens. No one believed the South would ever vote Republican, or that Virginia would ever shift back Democrat. No one believed Colorado would shift left, or shift back right again. California voted for the Republican in every presidential election but one from 1952 until Bill Clinton, and banned gay marriage with a popular vote of 52-47 as late as 2008.
The main constant in politics is its fluidity.
That last example is instructive. Prop 8 passed in a state that has been equated with gayness my entire life, not because Republicans rallied around it – there aren’t anywhere near enough of them – but because of a coalition of blacks, Hispanics and conservatives who shared a moral belief and a common cause that trumped traditional partisan divisions. Had it not been for that improbable alliance, Prop 8 probably would have received something like 37%.
Are there any other issues on which Republicans could build a coalition? Security, for instance? In a post-Paris, post-San Bernardino world, with Democrats hopelessly tone-deaf, maybe. Some will note that security had little impact on minority party identification during the Cold War, but until the demise of the Scoop Jackson Democrats, there was little reason for most Americans to believe Democrats weren’t committed to defending them. That’s patently different today.
There’s education. Courageous Democrats in several major cities, most notably New Orleans and Washington, have adopted the long-time Republican idea of charter schools, to truly impressive effect. In D.C., just under half of all high school students are now in charter schools, with a similar number in the traditional public system. The charter school kids are disproportionately poorer, blacker and in every way more disadvantaged. They’re also greatly outperforming their public school peers, with significantly higher graduation and college acceptance rates, dramatically higher than before the charter movement took hold.
In post-Katrina New Orleans, an astounding 94% of high school students are now in charters: they just exceeded statewide average test scores for the first time on record. The number of kids scoring at the Basic level or above has surged from 15% in 2005 to 57% in 2014. And for the first time, a majority are going on to college.
This is a conservative reform, making an enormous, obvious, life-altering difference in the toughest inner cities because black Democrat politicians decided their kids mattered more than teacher union dogma. I suspect most parents in most places would agree, given a chance, a choice and spokesmen who’ve shown what’s possible. Yet most Democrat leaders remain maniacally opposed to these real-world successes.
There’s prison reform. As I’ve written elsewhere, America has the world’s largest prison population, disproportionately minorities, much of it nonviolent. In a technological age, that makes no sense at all: we can track anyone, anywhere, any time. So why not do so, keeping nonviolent offenders at home with their families, requiring they work to support their own, and also to pay restitution to those they’ve harmed?
This is a vastly more compassionate approach: it puts the victims first, but it also keeps families intact and wives and children off welfare. It might not sit well with many who see criminal justice only in terms of law and order. But conservatives like Phyllis Schlafly, Richard Viguerie and former Attorney General Ed Meese are already leading on this issue, and there’s an opportunity here to bring people together who’ve never before seen eye to eye.
Or how about this one. Immigration, especially of the illegal sort, is widely believed to destroy American jobs and hold down American wages. We can debate the fine points of those arguments, but what is certain is that the people most affected – and most aware of being affected – are poor African Americans and Hispanics.
Though Republicans are really bad at this, it is easy to make the case that Democrats favor illegals who jump to the head of the line over their own core constituents. And this may even be more true for labor unions whose interests have been jettisoned by two consecutive Democrat presidents.
No one’s job prospects are harmed more by the flood of illegals than blacks; nearly half of U.S.-born Hispanics oppose Obama’s amnesty for the same reason. The conventional wisdom assumes that all Hispanics support amnesty and that outsider candidates like Trump and Cruz could never win them (odd considering Cruz’s heritage). But first, they don’t have to win all of them, just a larger minority than Republicans have previously; and second, their outsider status gives them the unique ability to say with unquestionable credibility: “I’m not a Democrat, but I’m not one of them either. Now let’s work together to solve your real problems.”
The “them” of course is several generations of the entire Republican leadership. Ergo, tabula rasa.
Both blacks and Hispanics generally poll conservative on many other issues, especially the social issues under renewed attack from the left. Moreover, Hispanics who become Evangelicals – a fast growing trend – vote 85% GOP. There’s a lot of fertile ground for common cause.
So what is to be done?
The first need is to deal with the fact that the overwhelming majority of both blacks and Hispanics think Republicans just don’t like them. That’s an ingrained belief GOP insiders probably can’t overcome. But Cruz, Rubio, Carson and even Trump might be able to bridge the gap – tabula rasa, once again – as might many other candidates for lower offices who meaningfully seek a coalition on issues of shared concern (California’s unisex public school bathrooms leap to mind).
Indeed, despite currently having to focus on the Republican base if they’re to win the nomination, we are seeing hints that this might be taking shape. Ben Carson has been polling 19% among blacks (Republicans usually get 10%, and black Republicans frequently do worse), and incidentally, running even with Hillary among women. A couple of polls have shown Trump as high as 24% among blacks (one outlier this week had him at an improbable 40%). Given his positions on trade, it is not at all impossible to imagine Trump winning the endorsement of the United Auto Workers and other unions, and if not that of their leadership, then at least of their rank-and-file.
If any of these things carried through to Election Day, Hillary wouldn’t just lose: she’d suffer one of the larger defeats in American history.
The second, third, tenth and twentieth needs are illustrated by the success of Prop 8: Republicans have to dump “outreach” – the very word sounds like us vs. them – and start recruiting, just as they would with any other group in the country. They need to make common cause with blacks and Hispanics on issues of shared concern, not talk at them (halfheartedly) about…whatever.
Am I arguing for a compromise of core principles? Certainly not. But there’s a lot of opportunity here, if someone creative would just think outside the old box.
And that’s really my point. Republicans’ surging outsider candidates are definitionally out of that box. To different degrees on different issues, they can carry new messages stated in new ways to new people their predecessors wrote off for decades. If conservative solutions really are better – and we strongly believe that they are – those messages will resonate with at least some who haven’t heard us before. And a lot of that will be because we actually go to them, above and around their normal, universally-leftist information sources.
That effort is not, as most GOP consultants have believed for two generations, futile. Remember: we don’t have to win a majority of either group to earn a landslide overall. And the combination of these candidates, new technologies, and the almost universal disenchantment with both parties creates a rare moment in history in which a genuine realignment could take place.
Will this happen? I don’t know. But it can. And we should work to make it so.