While Republican leaders console themselves that they salvaged control of the House from the defeat of Mitt Romney, they need to ponder the long-term future of the party of Lincoln and of Ronald Reagan.
The course of the Grand Old Party from the Great Emancipator to the Great Communicator took some very twisted turns — from Theodore Roosevelt, the great trust-buster; to Dwight Eisenhower, the great highway builder; to Richard Nixon, the great corrupter. Through it all, it has largely been the party of white men, then of white men and women, and more recently of white Christian evangelicals and tea party naysayers.
At the same time, the country has been becoming more Hispanic, more Asian and, in many major cities, more African-American. Yet it has remained essentially a two-party nation, with the Republicans and Democrats sharing the national stage for more than a century and a half since the pre-Civil War founding of the GOP.
In recent years, however, racial and ethnic minorities have been drawn steadily to the Democratic Party, which successfully branded itself as the champion of the urban poor and struggling. As combative as these two parties have been — and they have become more so in recent years — they have successfully withstood occasional efforts of weak third parties to break through.
The Progressives of TR and of Henry Wallace, the self-financing Ross Perot and the driven Ralph Nader all have tried to crack the Republican-Democratic hold on the system, with little to show for their efforts. As Tuesday's results suggest, the GOP appears imperiled not by any third party as by growing ethnic minorities in the population that see no acceptance or future for themselves in it. In the last four years, the Hispanic vote has increased by 4 million souls, most flocking to Democratic ranks.
In retrospect at least, the Republican Party may have been hard-pressed to find a standard-bearer more unlikely to be acceptable to these constituencies of immigrant background than Willard Mitt Romney. The 2012 presidential nominee, a white and aristocratic multimillionaire, was easily portrayed by his political foes as a capitalistic preyer on the poor, the middle class and the recently arrived to our shores.
Mr. Romney's proposal that illegal immigrants go back to their countries of origin, and to the end of the line there to apply for legal immigration, was dubbed self-deportation by Democratic wordsmiths. It further marked him as a reason for Hispanic-Americans to vote Democratic this year.
At this summer's Republican National Convention, the likes of Hispanic-American Sen. Marco Rubio, Indian-American Gov. Bobby Jindal and African-American entrepreneur Herman Cain were rare faces of color in a sea of Caucasians that advertised the paucity of racial and ethnic diversity in the party. One rare African-American GOP congressman, the rabble-rousing Allen West of Florida, lost his seat on Tuesday night.
According to exit polls by the data firm Edison Research, 59 percent of white voters surveyed said they voted for Mr. Romney to 39 percent for President Barack Obama. By contrast, among black voters, it was 93 percent for Mr. Obama to only 6 percent for Mr. Romney; among Hispanic voters it was 71 for Mr. Obama to 27 for Mr. Romney, and among Asian voters, 73 for Mr. Obama and 26 for Mr. Romney. At the same time, the total white share of the vote dropped to 72 percent from 74 percent in 2004.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich observed in a television interview the morning after the elections that the Republican Party would have to address the perception that it is a predominantly a white men's club. But that is a timeworn observation, going back to the late GOP Congressman Jack Kemp's inclusive big-tent theory as the road to party survival and eventual dominance.
More apparent now than ever before, the clock is ticking on the Republican Party's imperative to adopt policies that pay more than lip service to racial and ethnic minorities. With the re-elected President Obama vowing to deliver real immigration reform in his second term, the Republicans would be wise to get aboard instead of continuing to leave themselves badly outnumbered at the voting booth in ethnic and minority precincts.
Jules Witcover is a former longtime writer for the Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption." His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun