Grand Old White Male Party Gets Diversity Memo

Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen, Politico, December 18, 2012

Republicans are in full panic mode about being the party of old, white, straight, conservative men for years to come — and struggling big time with how to change things.

Under pressure from party leaders, most Republicans have chucked the anti-gay marriage, anti-illegal immigrant hostility — at least in public — that defined the party the past three elections. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other prominent Republicans are privately warning conservatives to put a sock in it when it comes to arguments that turn off large swaths of voters, sources tell us. Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy is doing the same on the House side.

But when it comes to the GOP putting people in positions of power to actually change things, it’s still raining men — the same older, white, straight ones that got the party into this jam in the first place.

The returning Republican National Committee chairman is Reince Priebus, a 40-year-old white man. Former Rep. J.C. Watts, one of only 25 African-Americans in history to serve in the House as a Republican, was floated as an alternative. That is going nowhere. {snip}

Every House chairman elected by peers is a middle-aged or older white man. The only chairwoman, Rep. Candice Miller of Michigan, was appointed to the Administration Committee, the panel responsible for keeping the House in order. It’s like a “Saturday Night Live” parody.

The top three elected House leaders, the only ones with real juice and substantial staff, are white men, too.

Senate Republicans were doing slightly better even before Scott’s appointment. The top Republicans on all but two Senate committees are white men — Lisa Murkowski on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Susan Collins on the Special Committee on Aging are the outliers. But Democrats have 16 incoming female senators — four times as many. The elected Republican Senate leadership is all male, all white.

The party saw one of its most prominent African-American voices elevated Monday, with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s historic decision to appoint Rep. Tim Scott to replace Sen. Jim DeMint, making Scott the first African-American Republican in the Senate in three decades.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, the new chairman of the Republican Governors Association, is the son of Indian immigrants. {snip}

{snip}

Newt Gingrich, dismissing much of the GOP post-election gestures as lip service, said Republicans have a much deeper problem than they think. “You face the grave danger of an Obama generation of young people who decide that they’re Democrats for the next 40 years,” Gingrich said. “People underestimate how big the gap is between how the country has been evolving and the way our leadership and our consultants and our professionals think about politics. That’s part of why virtually all of them who gave a prediction for Election Day were just plain wrong. And that includes me.”

{snip}

Republicans know what they ultimately need: a sustained, extremely well-funded effort to recruit, train and ultimately elect women and minorities to federal office. One option: create an outside group, funded by unlimited contributions, to target this growing problem. [Ed] Gillespie and Karl Rove are among those who have pushed the concept of doing more and doing it fast.

Gillespie said that sending a more inviting signal to Hispanics would also help with women: “It’s not just being opposed to illegal immigration — it’s being in favor of legal immigration and leading with that. It’s a more inclusive message.” Remember, though, Gillespie went from doing some of the best research on improving the GOP’s image among Hispanics, with his Resurgent Republic, to being a top adviser to Romney who systematically ignored most of it and made matters worse for the party.

Gingrich said in the next week, he will complete the opening outline of his own prescription for the party’s “minority inclusion problem,” including a new approach to cities. For one of the first times in his life, even Gingrich says he doesn’t have all the answers. “I’ve been at this since August of 1958, and I’m sufficiently sobered that I’ll tell you flatly I don’t know,” he said. {snip}

And Ken Mehlman, George W. Bush’s Republican National Committee chairman, who has since come out as gay, is arguing the party should support gay marriage. He helped start Project Right Side, a nonprofit that uses polling data to argue that Republican voters need to lead the way for Republican politicians on issues of civil rights and sexual orientation. {snip}

Big change would likely come in conjunction with the 2016 presidential campaign, and it seems a virtual certainty the GOP ticket will not feature two white men. {snip}

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