A Republican strategist said something interesting and revealing on Friday, though it largely escaped attention in the howling gusts of punditry over Mitt Romney’s birth certificate crack and a potential convention-altering hurricane. The subject was a Ron Brownstein story outlining the demographic hit rates each party requires to win in November. To squeak out a majority, Mitt Romney probably needs to win at least 61 percent of the white vote—a figure exceeding what George H.W. Bush commanded over Michael Dukakis in 1988. The Republican strategist told Brownstein, “This is the last time anyone will try to do this”—“this” being a near total reliance on white votes to win a presidential election.
I wrote a long story last February arguing that the Republican Party had grown intensely conscious of both the inescapable gravity of the long-term relative decline of the white population, and the short-term window of opportunity opened for the party by the economic crisis. I think we’re continuing to see the GOP operate under an integrated political and policy strategy constructed on this premise. This is their last, best chance to win an election in the party’s current demographic and ideological form. Future generations of GOP politicians will have to appeal to non-white voters who hold far more liberal views about the role of government than does the party’s current base.
The “2012 or never” hypothesis helps explain why a series of Republican candidates, first in the House and most recently at the presidential candidate level, have taken the politically risky step of openly declaring themselves for Paul Ryan’s radical blueprint. Romney’s campaign has been floating word of late that it sees a potential presidency as following the mold of James K. Polk—fulfilling dramatic policy change, and leaving after a single term. “Multiple senior Romney advisers assured me that they had had conversations with the candidate in which he conveyed a depth of conviction about the need to try to enact something like Ryan’s controversial budget and entitlement reforms,” reports the Huffington Post’s Jonathan Ward. “Romney, they said, was willing to count the cost politically in order to achieve it.” David Leonhardt floats a similar sketch, plausibly outlining how Romney could transform the shape of American government by using a Senate procedure that circumvents the filibuster to quickly lock in large regressive tax cuts and repeal of health insurance subsidies to tens of millions of Americans.