In the aftermath of the election, the notion that the Republican Party was facing what might delicately be called an uphill demographic battle was frequently raised. This was made evident by the age and ethnicity demographics in the U.S., and by President Obama's decisive victory in his bid for reelection. Since the election, the Republican Party's demographic problem has manifested itself in another significant way. Because of their narrow demographic and ideological base, the Republican Party and its leadership, inside and outside of congress, has proven itself to be increasingly out of touch with the citizenry it seeks to govern.
On a range of both domestic and foreign policy issues, Republican positions are sufficiently out of touch to seem almost absurd. On the domestic front, as the president's gun regulation proposals are gaining support nationally, the most prominent voice on the Republican side still belongs to the NRA, who continue to oppose almost any regulation on gun ownership and favor armed guards or even armed teachers at our schools. The NRA is, of course, not the same as the Republican Party, but the relative silence and absence of any significant proposals regarding guns from the Republicans in congress has raised the visibility of the NRA and their radical proposals.
Similarly, Republican senators are still trying to score political points by attacking the administration and specifically outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the death of American citizens at Benghazi. Senator Lindsey Graham has accused Clinton of "getting away with murder," while Senator Rand Paul indicated that if he had been president when that tragedy happened, he would have fired Clinton. The Republicans unwillingness to move beyond this interpretation of Benghazi reflects, among other things, an unwillingness to recognize not only that they are wrong and caught up in their own inside partisan fights, but that they have lost the support and interest of the American people.
These are just two examples, but the Republican position on, for example, marriage equality and a host of other rights issues for LGBT Americans demonstrate that the Republicans are still fixated on opposing an issue on which there is a clear and emerging consensus, particularly among younger Americans.
While demographics can explain some of this, it is also the case that in many ways, over the last five years or so, the White House and the Democratic Party has positioned itself better and been more politically savvy than its Republican opponent. The attacks, for example, against Hillary Clinton have gotten little traction, largely because of the very positive reviews of Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State. After four years that have been broadly assessed as successful, and stories about how diligent, well-prepared, smart and committed Clinton is, it is not surprising that attacking Clinton as incompetent or murderous does not stick.
Similarly, LGBT activists have been working for years on marriage equality issues, and by 2011 or so had clearly come up with a more potent way of presenting the issue to undecided voters. White House support for this issue, though not exactly courageous in its timing, helped define support marriage equality as the new centrist position. Republican opponents to marriage equality made little attempt to create new arguments or reach out to new supporters for their positions.
The Republican Party is out of touch not because it has taken unpopular positions. That is a normal part of politics. Rather, Republicans are uniquely out of touch because they continue to discuss things and promote ideas, such as the belief that Hillary Clinton is directly responsible for the deaths at Benghazi, that marriage between two men and two women is wrong or that guns must remain all but completely unregulated, to which most of the country no longer even pays any attention.
The central problem this raises for the Republicans is that once voters outside their base not only disagree with the Party but simply top listening to them on a few issues, the Democrats will exploit this advantage more. The big test for the Republicans will not be whether they can get people to pay attention to their backwards views on marriage equality or guns, because they cannot. Instead, it will be whether they can continue to keep any kind of focus on the deficit, or whether concern about the deficit, despite the significance of this problem, will increasingly become something about which only the Republican base cares. By overstating the import of the deficit problem, sounding almost unhinged and laying all of the blame on Obama, Republicans talking about the deficit have made themselves more difficult to take seriously.
It is unfortunate that the Republicans have gotten themselves into a position where even when they address real issues, they cannot do it in a manner that gets attention from most of America, but this speaks to how badly their brand has been damaged and the work facing those who seek to rebuild that Party.