It's a frame we accept without question: The GOP is in trouble, and many of their leaders don't recognize it. I'm writing this to argue that, perhaps, only part of that is true. It's entirely possible that the more perceptive of the Republican Party know exactly what its problem is, know that there's only one way out of its dilemma, and have already taken steps to address the issue.
Pretend with me, then, that you're a GOP operative, poring over the election results of 2008. You are struck by an insight: These results mark the end of Nixon's Southern strategy. As long as the GOP could keep the white Southern male -- and his cohort, the evangelical Christian brought into the fold by Ronald Reagan -- voting in large enough numbers, they could blunt any successful Democratic coalition. Indeed they did, most impressively in 1994.
During George W Bush's Presidency, the negative corollary to the Southern strategy began to emerge. By definition, the strategy is one of exclusion. If the numbers of the old, male and pale stop adding up, the strategy fails. Karl Rove saw this, and pushed for immigration reform. He failed, because -- guess what? -- the strategy had brought with it politicians who believed in being exclusive.
What you, the operative, suddenly see is that the only solution for the GOP is for many of the people who voted these politicians into office to die off. That is going to happen, life being a finite thing, but it will take time, up to a decade for the demographics to shift. What to do in the meantime? There are two possible answers: Appeal to a broader coalition now, taking the electoral lumps and turning many of your most committed voters into non-voters (and non-contributors) in the process; or use your committed voters to gum up the works for the decade it takes to regain your footing.
What do you choose? The first is unpalatable, so you choose to gum up the works. You gin up the Tea Party, and grab as many state legislatures as you can in 2010. This enables you to redistrict, giving you likely control of the House until 2020. This gives you a decade to remake your Party.
In no way am I suggesting that all Republican leaders understand this, or, even if they do, are willing to accept this. Some will be brought around reluctantly; some will lose elections, as the voters they counted on pass away; still others will survive with their reactionary politics intact. Electoral results, however, are powerful lessons, and 2012 had to teach most of the GOP that they cannot count on the Tea Party to overcome the essential demographic problem the GOP faces.
So let's be that operative again. What do you do next?
In jurisdictions where the older white male Republican still holds sway, you keep throwing red meat. You'll need to keep those seats through the remaking process. Anywhere you can, though, you start promoting young, fiscally conservative, Libertarian-lite candidates, preferably female, black or Hispanic. The future of the GOP has to include an end to its xenophobic tendencies; it also has to soften its socially conservative stances. Those things worked in the past, but the future is not kind to them. If you can find a dynamic Presidential candidate who can make it through the primary process in 2016 (right now Chris Christie would be the right kind of choice), that might make the change happen faster. If not, a placeholder who keeps you from losing much ground will be acceptable, because the ultimate goal is to be firing on all cylinders by 2020 -- when the next Census will be taken, and redistricting will happen again.
Assuming this is in fact the plan, let's look at how they're doing. The 2010 cycle went fairly well, except that it brought in even more anti-Government types. I imagine the hope was to rein them in with threats to their incumbency; if so, that has not yet worked out. As for 2012, once the top of the ticket was solidified in Mitt Romney, the only logical thing to do was to yoke him to a Tea Party hero, hope for the best, and focus on the downticket.
The part that really hasn't gone well is at the state level. The 2016 and/or 2020 candidate(s) probably have to come from the Governor bench -- they have to look good for the party faithful, without the baggage from the warfare in DC. Except for Christie, who has problems within his party, the bench hasn't fared well: Nikki Haley, Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, Rick Snyder, Rick Perry, Tom Corbett, Rick Scott, even John Kasich -- none currently look like viable Presidential candidates. A few may not even be reelected. Some of these states are likely to flip to the Democrats before 2020, and then the GOP is suddenly playing catch-up.
The Republicans, then, face a quandary in 2014, despite the first part of this decade going reasonably well for them. They need to start retiring some of their Old Guard; they need some more fresh non-white, non-male faces at the state level; and they need to find a means to rein in some of their firebrands in Congress. Barring an unprecedented upset, they look to retain their hold on the House, and gain a bit in the Senate. If things don't go their way in 2014, it won't be doomsday for them. But, having successfully gummed up the works, so far they have bought only time, not their future. The clock inexorably continues to tick.