Why the GOP Won't Change

Exactly one year ago, a committee of Republican party bigwigs issued the report of its "Growth and Opportunity Project," better known as the "autopsy." The idea was to figure out what the party was doing wrong, and how on earth Barack Obama had managed to get re-elected when everybody knows what a big jerk he is. There were some recommendations on things like improving the party's use of technology and its fundraising, but the headline-grabbing message was that the party had to shed its image as a bunch of grumpy old white guys and become more welcoming to young people and racial minorities.

It was always going to be a tricky thing to accomplish, both because the GOP is, in fact, made up in large part of grumpy old white guys, and because "outreach" can only go so far if you aren't willing to change the things you stand for. Mike Huckabee, that clever fellow, used to say, "I'm a conservative, but I'm not angry about it." Which is all well and good, but if, for instance, you say to young people that you don't think their gay friends ought to be allowed to get married, saying it with a smile doesn't really help.

And a year later, it's not just that the Republican party hasn't changed, it's that they don't have much reason to change. The coming election may or may not be the GOP "tsunami" that Reince Priebus predicts, but they're certainly going to pick up seats, just because of which seats are up in the Senate, the standard pattern of the president's party losing seats in the 6th year of his presidency, and the fact that that president isn't particularly popular right now. So why would a member of Congress—especially one from a conservative district or state—feel any need to undergo some kind of wholesale reinvention? Particularly when the people who put him where he is, and the people who are going to keep him where he is, aren't the kind of people he's being asked to "reach out" to. If your job is to get re-elected this fall, everything's looking just fine.

And even in the upcoming presidential election, the non-old-white-guy-outreach may not look all that important. As Jamelle Bouie notes, things like the economy and President Obama's popularity at the end of his term are going to matter much, much more than whatever outreach has been accomplished. What that means is that at the moment, no one whose name is or will be on a ballot in the near future has any particular interest in rethinking the party's identity. The members of Congress are thinking about their next election. Those running for president in 2016 will be thinking about 2016. It's fine for some party strategist to look 20 years down the road at the country's inevitable demographic changes and predict doom about the party's future. But the people who will actually implement the changes they suggest (or not) have no interest in looking that far ahead. And so they aren't going to change.

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