Tonight's GOP debate in New Hampshire may have fared better if the candidates received a pre-game demographics lesson.
It's clear that none of them, nor their handlers, have checked out the results of the 2010 Census. If they had, they might realize that the nation's Baby Boomers and old white businessmen are dwindling in supply, and what's needed now for the long-term future of both political parties is to take a serious look at how they're reaching out to a changing American electorate. It may be primary season, but does Team GOP really think tonight that they presented an alternative to President Obama, who made history and inspired millions of new young and diverse voters in 2008? Those voters may be disillusioned after the disappointments of governing, but Republicans have severely miscalculated if they think any of these candidates has offered a meaningful, visionary message that can compete with "Win the Future" in the general election.
(Don't even get started on the personality angle, or we'll all have to relive Herman Cain's unfortunate transition from interrogating potential jihadists in his cabinet to his love of deep dish pizza.)
The economy certainly matters in the 2012 race, but anyone who thinks next year is going to be simply about revisiting the stimulus and health care reform has lost sight of the big picture here.
Voters want to know what it means to be an American in the 21st Century, and how we're going to innovate and redefine our place in the world. Young people, who comprise the future of the American electorate and voted for President Obama at 2-to-1 rates in 2008, are the most diverse and tolerant generation in history; even the Republican among them see DADT and marriage rights as a personal matter the government has no business in, and they'd be hard-pressed to explain to their Latino friends why heartless conservatives can't even budge on the DREAM Act. Plus, the issues that will really impact them weren't even meaningfully on the table tonight but for a few minutes: developing an effective national security strategy at a time when we face stateless enemies, the need to address climate change, establish our energy independence and win the emerging green economy, or the rules that will surround privacy, copyright and access in the Internet era.
In fact, all the Republicans told us tonight is that we need to create jobs and deal with the deficit. Points well taken, but that's not a robust presidential platform.
Likewise, beyond the substance of the arguments, Ronald Reagan is probably restless in the afterlife at midnight in America, befuddled at the dark and weary tone his descendants offered the nation on the hill this evening. I'm shocked we didn't hear more about American exceptionalism, the one value conservatives have co-opted that would have garnered at least a patriotic reaction from the viewers at home, if not inspiration. (You know, that thing that flows from Obama's fingertips like laser beams.)
The interesting thing here is that the votes of both young Americans and Latinos are essentially up for grabs, as research shows that neither cohort has a strong affiliation to either political party. President Obama was an exemplary figurehead to members of these demographics in 2008, but he's yet to prove in practice that he's committed beyond his soaring campaign rhetoric. You'd think a smart Republican would see this opportunity and come out swinging, offering an updated argument to these voters for joining their team.
Instead, the GOP approach is actually one of disenfranchisement. Their foremost youth outreach strategy to date is a full-blown assault in dozens of states on voter registration and ballot-casting laws that will actively discourage Millennial voters from turning out at the polls. And God help them if they keep referring to human beings as "illegals."
Unless Sarah Palin can provide some charisma or Jon Hunstman offers some common sense, President Obama is going to drive right over this weak field of small-minded GOP speed bumps to a second term.