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Are Republicans Destined to Be 21st-Century Whigs?

02/26/2015 12:36 pm ET | Updated Apr 28, 2015

Republican victories in the recent midterm elections that gave it majorities in both houses of Congress obscure the fact that it is a party in decline. It currently possesses a political trajectory that could place it alongside the Whigs.

Led by Senate stalwarts Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, the Whigs were a 19th-century American political party that produced four presidents. It lasted for 27 years only to be heard from no more.

GOP relevance may not be quite as dire as the Whigs, but it is destined to become a regional party, unable to compete for the presidency. Recent Republican midterm success had as much to do with the inability of Democrats to mobilize voters as they did during the presidential election that allowed President Barack Obama to become the first Democrat to win reelection with more that 50 percent of the vote since Franklin Roosevelt.

The successful formula that provided five of six presidential election victories between 1968 and 1988 has lost four of the last six, and some would place an asterisk next to George W. Bush's victory over Al Gore in 2000.

In 1968, in the aftermath of the civil rights movement, Republicans instituted the Southern Strategy -- an effort to gain support of white voters in Southern states by appealing to racism against blacks.

Twelve years later, Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan went to Philadelphia, Mississippi, the place where three civil rights workers were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan, telling those in attendance, "I believe in states' rights." Reagan's words that day may have indeed reflected his libertarian beliefs, but it also was the dog whistle of racism.

In the 21st century, race continues to be part of the Republican playbook.

With the nation's changing demographics, the GOP is now scrambling to unearth effective outreach strategies geared toward black and Latino voters.

But a portion of the party is marred by what former Secretary of State Colin Powell defined as "a dark vein of intolerance." There are many, including blacks and Latinos, who would consider Republican candidates but are unable to do so because of that vein, which is more like an artery, of intolerance.

It is difficult for a political party to be taken seriously about outreach to black and Latino voters when it is so brazen about voter suppression and demagogic on immigration.

The party's opposition to gay marriage specifically, and gay rights in general, along with women's right to choose, will continue to be policies of diminishing return, even in future midterm elections.

After 46 years of systematically "othering" groups based on race, gender, and orientation, the Republican Party has no other recourse than to ride the tiger's back, as it embraces a social issues platform that is decades behind reality.

But any reversal of position on the aforementioned social issues risk losing key portions of the existing Republican base. Not that they would become Democrats; they would most likely opt out altogether.

With each upcoming election it will be increasingly challenging for Republicans to be perceived as viable if the party remains content to be climate change deniers, even though nearly half of Republicans believe some government action is warranted to curb global warming, according to a New York Times/Stanford University poll.

For more than 30 years the party's fiscal policy has been the one-trick pony known as supply-side tax economics. In the 12 years before Bill Clinton took office, these polices quadrupled the debt, and doubled it eight years after he left.

What can a party do that is observed as hostile to women and minorities and possessing no economic policy commensurate with the needs of today? Even if the Republicans were to take the White House in 2016, it does not mitigate the underlying problems.

A day of reckoning will come when the Republican Party must disavow the temptation of short-term gains in order to compete for voters that represent the changing America.

If not, the party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan may some day be spoken of in the same context as the party that gave us William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Millard Fillmore.