As GOP primary voters lurch from Santorum to Romney to Gingrich to Paul and back again, one thing is clear: the Republican party is undergoing a seismic shift in consciousness whose appeal to the American people is increasingly dubious.
My grandfather was a diehard Republican. His father had fought in the Civil War and was a slave. My grandfather and his father thus had a strong emotional connection to the Republican party -- the Party of Lincoln. The party that freed the slaves and advocated on behalf of blacks. That changed when my grandfather went to the 1964 GOP convention. Barry Goldwater refused to support the 1964 Civil Rights Act, despite being an ardent supporter of desegregation. He made one of the worst political calculations in history. My grandfather found that the party had turned a corner and was looking for new voters. Voters who didn't share most blacks' vision for the future. The GOP flipped from a left-leaning party in a sharp rightward direction it's followed ever since. Perhaps it's divine justice that Goldwater's cynical choice didn't win him the election after all.
The GOP lost blacks in the 1960s, lost Latinos in the last election (and look likely to do that again in this election) and now appear on the verge of losing women through increasingly reactionary rhetoric and policies.
The party now has a choice -- scrape together the last remaining angry old white men as long as they can - there are still a lot of them around since there's plenty of boomers and it's a big if eventually dwindling generation. Plus there's what's left of the Greatest Generation who are uncomfortable with certain demographic & societal shifts to court.
OR there's an alternative path into the 21 century for Republicans: find an attractive young ethnic and/or female conservative, infuse their message with about 70% of Ron Paul's libertarian - socially liberal/fiscally conservative platform (minus some but not all of the crazy - gotta keep em entertained) and release them into the public discourse.
That combo would be pretty magical. I probably wouldn't be so attracted but I suspect a lot of Americans would be. Imagine if Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal or Sarah Palin were just a little more moderate -- if they supported gay marriage for example and thought legalizing pot was just fine. What if they actually supported a limited government that protects your privacy and taxes fairly, backs contraception coverage vigorously and were pro-choice, pro-immigration reform, pro-science & technology, etc. That would be pretty powerful stuff.
The question is how far the GOP will go to keep a small radical group of old white men (ahem, Koch Brothers) who long for the return of an America that never existed - one built by and for wealthy white men exclusively and seek smaller and smaller audiences while disguising their repulsive platform OR if Republicans will seek a truly populist platform, try to appeal to a new set of younger, more socially open & diverse donors and bring more people into their tent.
The current GOP vision of the country seems to include allowing Wall St to do whatever they want no matter who it hurts, allow your employer to make decisions on your sex life and healthcare, disallow equality for some citizens, allow health insurance companies to not cover children who have "pre-existing conditions" and citizens to go bankrupt because they are unlucky enough to fall sick or have an accident, allow millionaires to pay less in taxes by percentage than their secretaries and call women who advocate for their own healthcare sluts -- this is not an America that most Americans want to live in. The contraception debate and Rush Limbaugh dustup has shown how far the current Republican party has drifted from its conservative principles. What happened to trusting market forces -- insurance companies want to cover contraception! -- and to allowing individuals the freedom to make their own life choices without interference?
Mitt Romney as the flag-bearer of the GOP is tone-deaf -- he hasn't taken any questions from audiences in almost 2 months, since Jan 13! And he's losing steam with conservatives, weakening with each win. Is it possible that Mitt Romney is the Barry Goldwater of 2012, driving people wholesale into the arms of another party and forcing a dramatic political re-alignment in our nation?
There's never been a stronger opportunity for a compelling third party candidate. The question is whether that person comes from the Tea Party to provide a more conservative candidate or if a more moderate candidate who is less liberal than Obama is perceived to be but less radically Republican than Romney is attempting to paint himself. But who will step forward?
Personally I'd like to see a wholesale reformation of the Republican party. As an African-American, I feel strongly that both parties should be competing equally for my vote and presenting the most exciting ideas to better black communities and all American people. Until that time, it's hard to see where someone who doesn't belong to a certain race, gender or class fits in the GOP of this primary season.
(video above: GOP the Musical! Presented via FlackCheck.org. Full disclosure: they are a client of Fission Strategy because I believe ads should be accurate.)