Republicans did a lot of soul searching in the wake of the 2012 election. Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus commissioned an internal study to determine exactly what went wrong two years ago — and how to fix it.
The autopsy offered the party a way forward: stop alienating younger voters by hating on gay people, reach out to women and minorities, pass comprehensive immigration reform, try to shake the detached rich guy image and open up the echo chamber that the party had become. Some moderation in policy was necessary, but mostly the rhetoric needed to be toned down. Sounds simple, right?
Several prominent Republicans heeded the advice: Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence have all made an effort to soften the party's sharp edges and appeal to traditionally Democratic constituencies.
The party as a whole, however, is another story. Republicans may perform well in the November midterm elections, but they have done the opposite of what is needed politically to forge the coalition of minority voters, women and young people they need to win in 2016 and beyond.
How long can the GOP be on the wrong side of every issue and remain a viable party?
Bipartisan immigration reform passed the Senate in June 2013, but House Republican leadership has refused to bring the matter up for a vote. Earlier this summer when the child refugee crisis on the southern border focused national attention on immigration, Republicans advocated for more stringent border security and immediate deportation of the thousands of children rather than using the occasion to appear more inclusive.
Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) were recently threatening to shut down the government again if President Barack Obama issued an executive order liberalizing immigration policies. A chance to show compassion to thousands of immigrant children should be treated as a godsend for a political party seeking to appeal to a growing minority voting bloc. Instead, conservative protesters blocked a bus full of refugees from being taken to a temporary holding facility in San Diego.
In the last two years, Republicans held up the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, dragged their feet on the Paycheck Fairness Act, created a series of warped anti-Obamacare ads aimed at women featuring a nightmarish Creepy Uncle Sam, continued to talk about rape and applauded the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision restricting women's health rights. Following former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton around in a squirrel mascot outfit while insisting her supporters are nuts doesn't exactly scream gender equality.
Republicans have blocked an increase in the minimum wage and shut down the government to try to block the implementation of Obamacare, two things that would greatly benefit minorities and young people. They're fighting gay marriage in the courts even as the public's views have shifted dramatically.
Principles like economic fairness and equal protection under the law are not owned by liberals, and millennials understand that — their sometimes contradictory political opinions are a sign of incoherence to some, but may also indicate ideological and partisan flexibility. As long as their views are vilified by Republicans, young voters will keep pulling the lever for Democrats.
What is so hard to figure out here? Adapt or die.
Republicans' problems go far beyond knowing what not to do and doing it anyway. It's a deeper problem than sacrificing presidential prospects for midterm gains. This is as much a messaging failure as it is a failure to cooperate with reality. The majority of Republicans — against their own advice, no less — are giving themselves over to their base's most visceral, vocal and damaging instincts.
But they will likely still be rewarded at the polls in November, since the electorate in midterm elections tends to be older and whiter than the population that votes in presidential election years. It's a strange dynamic: Do everything wrong politically, pass as few bills as possible, shut down the government, do nothing to improve your overall image or expand your support and still win an election.
Older, whiter, more conservative voters tend to show up in greater numbers in midterm elections. But there are fewer of these voters with each passing cycle and more of what has been called the "coalition of the ascendant" — namely, more young people, women and minorities. The core of the Republican electorate is literally dying off and the party isn't making the changes necessary to stay competitive in the future. How long can you be on the wrong side of every political issue that's important to a new generation of voters and remain a viable party? That's a question few people in the Republican Party have asked.
The congressional wing of the party will likely follow the same path after the midterms that they did after winning the House in 2010 — misinterpret their victory as a mandate, pass even more radical bills and amendments and further marginalize and isolate themselves from the much larger voting public who will show up in 2016. You can only rage and thrash against the tide until you are eventually swept away.