People keep telling the GOP to reform. Nearly every week since the November elections, someone has written about the party's demographics problem. The GOP needs to appeal to young voters. They need to appeal to non-white voters. They especially need to appeal to those non-white voters who are Hispanic. Yesterday's Supreme Court rulings brought up another element of the demographic problem: the GOP has lost the culture wars. As a result, it needs to appeal to pretty much anyone who is not an Evangelical Christian.
Of course, the GOP knows all of this ... and it has kind of responded. Maybe. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina pandered to (his perception of) Hispanic voters. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky spoke at Howard University. The RNCC even modeled its website after Buzzfeed.
The problem, of course, is that none of these changes are significant in any way. And the GOP does not appear ready to make any significant changes, either. For every attempt at demographic outreach, whether substantive or superficial, the base of the party has become even more defiant and entrenched its position even more forcefully.
The GOP has essentially become trapped by its own strategies for victory, stuck in a grave that it dug for itself (the dimensions of which Andrew Sullivan has explored at length). It has become a captive of Fox News pundits like Ann Coulter, Evangelical figures like Mike Huckabee, and Tea Party figures like Glenn Beck. The party no longer offers a conservative vision. It only offers a specific misinterpretation of American history and religious life, an absurd vision of the present international system, and a paranoid rejection of modern cultural forces, all of which were perspectives adopted as a strategy for electoral victory.
This is what the current leadership hopes to change, for electoral viability if anything else, but has so far failed to do so.
This is also the reason why the essentially conservative rulings in Wednesday's Supreme Court cases, that equal status under the law provides equal benefits for individuals and that individual states have the right to decide their own marriage laws, were met by two responses. The first, by GOP leaders trying to reorient the party, accepted the rulings and announced the end of the marriage equality debate. The second response, by members of the Republican base, was a combination of dispirited resentment and impassioned lamentations about the future of the country.
Yesterday's reactions have shown the current split within the Republican Party as it tries to save itself. But they also showed that reorientation efforts may yet have a chance to succeed. Vitriolic outrage was less visible and more restrained yesterday than at any other time in recent memory. This reaction was inconceivable in 2008 or 2010.
But the base still remains. As the recent abortion in debate in Texas has shown, the GOP has not yet escaped the culture wars. In fact, the fight appears to continue completely unabated at the state level, where Republican parties continue to pass draconian legislation on women's rights and discriminatory practices on voter ID laws. Even if the party leaders succeed in changing the national stance on the culture wars, they may still be too late to save the rest of the party from itself.