A Little Sensitivity Training Could Go a Long Way for the GOP

Charlie Cook

As they say, words matter. For Republicans seeking the long road back to being a national and broad-based party, the movement toward a bipartisan and comprehensive immigration plan is a start, but it doesn’t finish the job. GOP candidates got pounded in the November election among minority voters: Mitt Romney and congressional Republicans lost Latino voters by 44 and 38 points, respectively; and Asian voters by 47 and 48 points.

But the damage done among Latinos and Asians, the latter now the fastest-growing minority group, resulted not just from the substance of the immigration issue but from the rhetoric. While Romney can blame only himself for his “self-deportation” remarks, far earlier and far more often we saw shoot-from-the-lip remarks from various Republican candidates, conservative radio and cable television talk-show hosts, and guests who were seen by many as being, correctly or not, spokesmen for the Republican Party. Many Latino and Asian voters have come to see the GOP as a hostile force, a political movement made up of people who don’t want anyone who doesn’t look like them coming or staying in America.

Obviously, there are many Republicans, probably most, who don’t feel or talk that way. But those who do say such things do so loudly enough that they have become the face and voice of the party on many issues, thereby inflicting great damage on the GOP as a whole and the many Republicans who don’t feel that way. If a party could enroll its candidates, party officials, and, for that matter, members in one big sensitivity training class, it wouldn’t be a bad thing for Republicans to do so.

By 2016, Arizona may well become a purple state, Texas by 2020. If Republicans learned some new math last November, four and eight years from now they will have some new electoral math to contemplate if they haven’t begun to at least neutralize the attitudes toward their party among Latino voters. California has already dropped into the blue column. In many other states, Latinos make up a smaller but still sizable double-digit share of the electorate, and their strong propensity to back Democrats raises the bar for the share of the white vote that Republicans must win.

By the same token, Republican comments on rape, abortion, and other issues continue to marginalize candidates in the minds of female voters, particularly younger women. This affects both those GOP candidates who make insensitive remarks as well as those who are simply collateral damage. GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway’s reported remarks at the House Republican retreat that Republican candidates should consider the word “rape” a four-letter word, not to be uttered, is pretty good advice. Just don’t go there.

Part of the problem for many GOP House members is that their districts are so carefully drawn to be overwhelmingly white, Republican, and conservative that remarks that hardly raise an eyebrow at the local Rotary or Kiwanis Club become big news when they run for the Senate or when a spotlight is thrown on them. Because they are U.S. representatives, they see themselves and their congressional districts as representative of the country, as a microcosm, when in reality their districts are carefully constructed conservative enclaves where Romney won big despite the fact that he lost nationally by almost 4 percentage points.

To be sure, most Democratic House members operate in a parallel world, representing enclaves that are just as liberal as their counterparts are conservative: 96 percent of House Democrats sit in districts won by Barack Obama, while 94 percent of House Republicans are in districts won by Romney. By March we will have solid figures on exactly where the presidential margins were in each congressional district, but the preliminary figures should hold up pretty well. Very, very few districts will come in anywhere near the national presidential outcome of 51 percent for Obama, 47 percent for Romney, or in the 48 to 49 percent national House popular vote, as compiled by The Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman.

Every four years the U.S. intelligence community produces a Global Trends Report looking at what the world and the U.S. will look like in the future, outlining the anticipated challenges that each will face. The most recent report, "Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds," produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is a fascinating prophecy drawing on the top futurists and analysts at the CIA and across the intelligence community. It provides guidance for those living in the day-to-day about what they should be thinking about as they go about their jobs (the report is publicly available as a PDF document).

A smart political party would be well advised to have some of their sharpest thinkers look at the social, economic, demographic, and political trends outlined in the Global Trends Report to help sensitize leaders about what may be around the next corner and the one after that. Said party might also look at its own capabilities—technology for example—compared to the other party. Too many live in the here and now, with their here being much more limited than they have any idea. Looking beyond the here and now is a good way to avoid the mess that Republicans find themselves in today.