Human nature is interesting and rigid. As a species we adapt to survive. Our evolution changes not only the way we look but the way we think and act. We have learned that the survival of our species is more closely linked to our ability to physically dominate the eco-system than to be a small hunter/gatherer part of that system. Our views on relationships, what constitutes values, etc. also change over time in order to allow us to survive.
The one place our survivalist instrncts and natural adaptation doesn't appear to hold is in the area of politics. While politics evolve, there seems to be a natural tendency for political parties to force themselves into oblivion. It is almost as if the Darwinian theory of natural selection plays out on a miniature level throughout our history. Those political parties that have evolved have remained or taken on the characteristics of another party, but those political parties that have been evolutionarily rigid have disappeared only to be replaced by the next example of evolutionary rigidity.
Whether we look at the end of the Whig party, the No-Nothings, the Prohibitionist or any of the other parties that have made brief but ill fated plays on the center stage of American politics, we find some similar patterns. Each of the parties existed, either through their entire existence, or in their later years, on extremely narrow political grounds. In the end, they were unable to adapt to a changing political landscape and became obsolete.
The democratic party of the early 1950s was facing some of the same problems. The co untry was moving inexorably toward equal rights for minorities. The primary opposition for civil rights were southern democrats and certain northern democrats who wished to see the status quo continue. This was a watershed moment for the democratic party. Either the party was going to adapt and evolve and wholeheartedly embrace the civil rights movement or face a continued surge by the republicans that would render the democrats impotent for decades. The evolution of the democratic party was interesting as it moved through the 1950s and 1960s. They maintained many of the pro-labor policies that they espoused during the forties and continued to back policies that strengthened and extended the social contract with America, but they took on the civil rights movement and co-opted it as their own and moved strongly toward an anti-war agenda which was a move that strengthened their position with younger Americans.
The republican party, on the other hand, saw a different solution to an America in flux. They moved to what was famously to be known as the "southern strategy".They drew disaffected democrats from what have become the "red" states and attempted to put together a coalition of formerly conservative democrats, fiscal republicans, the emergent Evangelical movement, and a subset of conservatives interested in establishing what would become a neo-con foreign policy.
That coalition held well for the republican party through the Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush years. The country moved toward the right and the coalition began to look like the face of America. The cracks in that republican coalition began to show up in 2000 with the outrageously close and absolutely partisan presidential election. Those cracks became larger in 2004 and 2006 and reached the point of a fissure in 2008 with the election of President Obama, a strongly leaning democratic senate and house of representatives and a state slate that showed a different direction for the country. The right briefly rebounded during the 2010 off year elections with a huge victory for the "tea party" wing of the republican party, both in congress and at the state level.
Those victories actually were harbingers of the death knell for the republican politics of the second half of the 20th century. It seems odd that I would make that argument, but the reality was that the republican party should have done even better in 2010 if they hadn't jumped the shark with many of their candidates. Senate candidates like Christine O'Donnell in Delaware and Sharon Angle in Nevada kept the senate in democratic hands. The sign of the future was clearly written on the walls.
In anticipation of this change, the republican party undertook a path that spoke of desperation and panic. Even in the wake of the 2010 victories, the imperative process for republicans was three-fold......to make President Obama a one term president......... to supress the vote in areas that would aid the republican candidates and work to the detriment of the democrats.........and to gerrymander districts so that even in states that had significant democratic majorities, the congressional districts were cut in such a manner that the republicans were going to keep control of the house of representatives throughout the decade.
The 2012 elections were the climactic event in demonstrating the shrinking coalition of the republican party. At every level, the republicans lost. President Obama won reelection by over 125 electoral votes and 4 million votes. The senate elected new and additional democrats to office when the republicans had the temerity to nominate such extreme candidates as Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdoch in Indiana. Even in the gerrymandered house, 8 of the most extreme republicans including Alan West and Alan Walsh were voted out of office and democrats received more than 1 million more congressional votes than republicans. The coalition had fallen apart and a new, potentially long term coalition was being developed among the democrats.
The face of the nation had been and continues to be changing. The new democratic coalition of traditional liberals, left/center moderates, immigrants, minorities, women's right's advocates, gay rights advocates, youth, and some southern evangelicals is one that will continue to grow throughout the 21st century. This is a country that will be a majority minority country by 2050. It is a country that is moving toward the acceptance of those who may be different from one another. We are moving toward being a color blind, difference blind society.
This lays out the challenge for the republican party today. They must move from being a party of exclusion to becoming a party of inclusion. They must understand that rights belong to everyone, straight or gay, of religion or atheist, men or women, black, brown,or white without question or argument. They must understand the mood of a nation that wants to see our children safe from assault weapons and our cities revitalized and put on a par with our suburbs and rural areas. They must take their party back from the extremists who think that the role of the representative is to destroy government, not to improve it. They must take their party back from those who fantasize about a government that operates with no revenue and only expenditure. They must come back to the understanding that we are one nation and that the nation is a dynamic, living, breathing whole.
If the republican party cannot come into the 21st century, they will become more and more marginalized in national American politics. Within twelve years, they will lose their last remnant of governance in the northern and far western states and will be rapidly losing ground in the midwest. Political parties, like species of animals do not die out over night. They gradually recede in numbers, until they reach a number that cannot sustain a critical mass. The republican party is well along that road toward irrelevance. That is a pity. This country needs a viable two party system that debates big problems with competing grand solutions. Unfortunately, nothing is not a grand solution for anything but extinction.