A reader just brought this article from the New York Times Magazine to my attention. It’s the kind of piece I’ve seen a lot of since the SS Romney foundered on election night, but it’s also one of the more thorough. The basics? The digital divide separating the GOP and the Democrats is not only wide and deep, but growing. And despite the best intentions of the national party and its leadership, simply filling the void with new gadgets — important as that is — won’t be enough to put the party back in the winner’s circle:
…the problem for the G.O.P. extends well beyond its flawed candidate and his flawed operation. The unnerving truth, which the Red Edge team and other younger conservatives worry that their leaders have yet to appreciate, is that the Republican Party’s technological deficiencies barely begin to explain why the G.O.P. has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. The party brand — which is to say, its message and its messengers — has become practically abhorrent to emerging demographic groups like Latinos and African-Americans, not to mention an entire generation of young voters. As one of the party’s most highly respected strategists told me: “It ought to concern people that the most Republican part of the electorate under Ronald Reagan were 18-to-29-year-olds. And today, people I know who are under 40 are embarrassed to say they’re Republicans. They’re embarrassed! They get harassed for it, the same way we used to give liberals a hard time.”
That may be painting with too broad a brush, but I get it. It was never cool to be a Republican. It probably never will be. But can it be made at least palatable to a wider slice of folks?
Sure. But consider this bit from an all-female focus group, some members of which “bitterly opined that the Democrats care little about the working class but lavish the poor with federal aid”:
About an hour into the session, Anderson walked up to a whiteboard and took out a magic marker. “I’m going to write down a word, and you guys free-associate with whatever comes to mind,” she said. The first word she wrote was “Democrat.”
“Young people,” one woman called out.
“Liberal,” another said. Followed by: “Diverse.” “Bill Clinton.”“Change.”“Open-minded.”“Spending.”“Handouts.”“Green.”“More science-based.”
When Anderson then wrote “Republican,” the outburst was immediate and vehement: “Corporate greed.”“Old.”“Middle-aged white men.” “Rich.” “Religious.” “Conservative.” “Hypocritical.” “Military retirees.” “Narrow-minded.” “Rigid.” “Not progressive.” “Polarizing.” “Stuck in their ways.” “Farmers.”
Anderson concluded the group on a somewhat beseeching note. “Let’s talk about Republicans,” she said. “What if anything could they do to earn your vote?”
A self-identified anti-abortion, “very conservative” 27-year-old Obama voter named Gretchen replied: “Don’t be so right wing! You know, on abortion, they’re so out there. That all-or-nothing type of thing, that’s the way Romney came across. And you know, come up with ways to compromise.”
“What would be the sign to you that the Republican Party is moving in the right direction?” Anderson asked them.
“Maybe actually pass something?” suggested a 28-year-old schoolteacher named Courtney, who also identified herself as conservative.
Easy to pick those apart, or dismiss, or simply ignore. But check out what an all male group had to say:
The session with the young men was equally jarring. None of them expressed great enthusiasm for Obama. But their depiction of Republicans was even more lacerating than the women’s had been. “Racist,” “out of touch” and “hateful” made the list — “and put ‘1950s’ on there too!” one called out.
Showing a reverence for understatement, Anderson said: “A lot of those words you used to describe Republicans are negative. What could they say or do to make you feel more positive about the Republican Party?”
“Be more pro-science,” said a 22-year-old moderate named Jack. “Embrace technology and change.”
Granted: focus groups are a step or two removed from “The Lord of the Flies,” and quite often, they can be coached to say or do just about anything if pizza is involved.
But there’s enough in this article, good and bad, plus plenty of self-promotion, that even the most hide-bound Republican operative ought to stand back and ask what can be done.
If not, they don’t run a risk of becoming electoral road kill. They will be road kill.