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Republican resurgence faces many challenges

Last week we looked at the Democrats' increasingly progressive platform and constituencies, particularly their attendant enthusiasm for large government and ever-higher spending.

But what about the other party? Is the GOP ready (and able) to win the next national election, or is it a dinosaur careening toward regional status? Happy you asked, as I have been pondering this question for quite some time.

For the optimists, it was less than three years ago wherein a tea party-led, grass-roots surge removed Nancy Pelosi from the House speaker's chair. Those same activists are still around and still angry at the familiar litany of Obama-sponsored outrages, especially a nearly $17 trillion (and counting) federal debt and ever-unpopular Obamacare overhaul.

Further, there is considerable national ticket talent within the ranks of successful GOP governors, including John Kasich of Ohio, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, and Scott Walker of Wisconsin. A common thread: records of fiscal sensibility and a willingness to take on liberal special interest groups (particularly public sector unions) — in often aggressive ways.

But GOP gains in future electoral cycles have been made more difficult by a number of demographic and cultural changes. To wit:

A more secular America. Republican voters are of a more conservative cultural bent on issues such as gun control, immigration reform, abortion, gay marriage and affirmative action. That this worldview is increasingly in conflict with an Obama-led progressive resurgence is beyond question. Also beyond question is the Democratic advantage with younger voters on these and other hot-button social issues. Yet, socially conservative voters in the South and West (who deliver their states on Election Day) are the party's base. Which raises the question: Will the grass roots support a candidate with less-conservative views on one or more of these threshold issues? My experience with Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign would not lend itself to an optimistic conclusion.

Hispanic and Asian voting patterns. We've all seen the attention-grabbing numbers. Hispanic (71 percent to 27 percent) and Asian (73 percent to 26 percent) voters supported Barack Obama by huge margins. And all despite aggressive outreach efforts directed to small, hardworking entrepreneurs who share the GOP's business-orientated platform and (in many cases) conservative social positions. (In this regard, note the considerable difficulties Texas Democrats are experiencing in their "Turn Texas Blue" campaign; seems extreme "pro-choice" positions on abortion are a difficult sell to Catholic, Latino voters.)

Yet, polls confirm that Republican opposition to a comprehensive immigration bill was/is a major factor here, a fact of political life that should not be lost on congressional Republicans negotiating a comprehensive immigration bill at this very moment. FYI: This does not mean "caving" on core issues; it does mean working out a sensible bill that strengthens border security and imposes real requirements (job skills, paid-up taxes, clean criminal record, English proficiency) on those who wish to attain legal status.

A successful campaign to demonize tea party groups. Campaign 2012 was illustrative in a personal way: My urban radio appearances were always met with irate African-American callers venting their displeasure with the "closet racists" within the tea party.

The genesis of the anger could be traced to a Capitol Hill rally on March 10, 2010 (on the eve of the "Obamacare" vote) wherein the assembled protesters were famously accused of directing racial slurs to members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The fact that not one bit of supporting evidence was ever produced did not dissuade the national media from imputing a racial angle to a movement that had been solely concerned with fiscal issues. Parenthetical note: Tea party haters seem to view conservative support for limited government as "code" for the desired dismantling of a welfare state that protects the poor and minorities. Left unsaid (by some) is the notion that opposing an African-American president is in and of itself racist. Try rebutting that premise.

The bottom line is an ever-steeper hill to climb for Republicans interested in attracting African-American voters.

Political science teaches that after all the polling, debates, fundraising, and door-knocking, candidates still count. In 2012, the GOP fielded a well-known, well-funded, successful businessman who had gotten elected in deep-blue Massachusetts. Yet, Mitt Romney ultimately failed to energize enough independents (who were ripe for the picking) and Republican base voters, 3 million of whom failed to show up on Election Day. (If Mormonism was the reason for the no-shows, shame on us.)

It was not so long ago that an old Hollywood actor — pro-life, anti-communist, and decidedly not politically correct — appealed to voters of all stripes, including young people notorious for their youthful liberalism. You see, the former actor had that all-important "it" factor going for him; he could strike a chord with the average voter despite all kinds of ugly media reviews.

In light of America's demographic trends, it would serve the GOP well to find a candidate with similar communicative skills before another four years of progressive judges, regulators and bureaucrats take additional pounds of flesh from the body politic.

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s column appears Sundays. The former Maryland governor and member of Congress is a partner at the law firm King & Spalding and the author of "Turn this Car Around," a book about national politics. His email is

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