And talking about overconfidence, lately I've been leaning towards a theory that the Republican party is even more screwed than they appear to be. It all has to do with a strategy proposed to Richard Nixon, which has worked very well for Republicans but seems to be backfiring now.
In 1971, as described by this piece, Pat Buchanan sent a memo to Nixon under the heading "Dividing the Democrats." In the memo, Buchanan urged Republicans to "cut the Democratic Party and country in half; my view is that we would have far the larger half."
Increasingly over the last couple of decades, Republicans have followed through on this strategy by trying to harness the energy of angry xenophobic white males. Let's start with the gender gap: The most recent pew poll shows Obama beating Romney in the popular vote by 52%-46%, but leading among women voters by an enormous 19 point lead of 56%-37%. (Men are about evenly split.) Between aggressively fighting against legal abortion, trying to single out birth control funding as unnecessary and irrelevant, opposing bills that promote equal pay for both genders, generally slut-shaming women who speak up about health issues, and dismissing objections by comparing them to a war on caterpillars, Republicans in this cycle have shown that they don't want to have to win women's votes.
Then we have minorities. In 2000, Hispanics were a hotly contested demographic and the split between Bush and Gore was fairly close. Now, thanks to the draconian law passed in Arizona, and with many other states trying to emulate it, Republicans are all but writing off that vote. Romney trails Obama among registered Latino voters in the famously important swing state of Florida by 40 points, at 66% to 26%. Meanwhile, there was a poll this year where African American support for Romney showed up as 0%. Seriously.
Of course, there's Romney's already infamous not-so-secret contempt for almost half the country -- "47% of the country," a figure which includes children, the elderly, and the working poor, are moochers and losers that he would like to write off entirely.
My perspective on the Republican party is that they're still counting on Pat Buchanan's strategy to hold on to their half of the vote, but "their half" has become increasingly out of touch with reality. The Tea Party, once hailed as a new chapter in Republican grassroots support, is now more hated than Muslims and atheists. Recently, PolitiFact rated a Romney campaign ad as "Pants on fire." The response by a Romney staffer was swift and dismissive: "We are not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers."
Buchanan may have had a winning strategy at the time, but in recent elections "their half" of the electorate has gotten crazier, and Republicans have responded by pandering to the crazies harder each season. Sure, it keeps the base fired up, but over time it's making the base smaller and smaller. That, of course, requires them to pander even more in order to boost turnout, which breaks off more of their base, and so on. I definitely know better than to predict their demise. I'm not so overconfident that I don't realize how dangerous that is. But I do wonder how much longer this strategy can possibly work. You try to focus a campaign on hating "the other"; what happens when there are much more of "the other" than you have on your own team?
This post is, incidentally, edited from a conversation I've been having with my dad, and there is more to the exchange. In a later post I will talk about why Mitt Romney's chance of winning is probably even worse than Nate Silver's otherwise excellent Five Thirty Eight blog makes it appear.