Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center thinks things aren't as gloomy as they seem for the GOP. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, naturally, is only too happy to give him space to explain why he thinks this:
A week after President Obama won re-election, two themes are dominant. First, that Mr. Obama kept his job because key elements of his base -- notably young people, African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans -- turned out for him. Second, that the growing size of these voting blocs represents a decisive challenge for the Republican Party.So who was the GOP supposed to run in 2012 who wouldn't have had a lousy favorable rating with the general public? Have you seen Rick Santorum's favorable ratings? Newt Gingrich's? Michele Bachmann's? Donald Trump's? Rick Perry's?
Both points are true, but most observers are overstating the gravity of the GOP's problem. In particular, they are paying too little attention to how weak a candidate Mitt Romney was, and how much that hurt Republican prospects.
Here is what the exit poll found. Mr. Romney's personal image took a hard hit during the primary campaign and remained weak on election day. Just 47% of exit-poll respondents viewed him favorably, compared with 53% for Mr. Obama. Throughout the campaign, Mr. Romney's favorable ratings were among the lowest recorded for a presidential candidate in the modern era....
Mr. Romney was never fully embraced by Republicans themselves, which may have inhibited the expected strong Republican turnout. Pew's election-weekend survey found Mr. Romney with fewer strong supporters (33%) than Mr. Obama (39%). Similarly, a much greater percentage of Obama supporters (80%) than Romney supporters (60%) told Pew that they were voting for their candidate rather than against his opponent....
I know the response from non-crazy Republicans is that the GOP could have won this time around with a less polarizing candidate -- a Pawlenty, a Huntsman, a Barbour, a Daniels. But that speaks directly to Kohut's second point: GOP primary voters don't like less polarizing candidates. They were thoroughly uninspired by Pawlenty. They despised Huntsman as an Obama appeaser. Barbour really isn't interested in fighting various Fox News culture battles. Daniels called for a culture war truce -- he'd never get the nomination.
I'm not saying that Republicans can't possibly find the sweet spot -- a candidate the crazy base can get behind who doesn't alienate Hispanics, single women, and others in Obama's coalition. I'm saying that the Republican nominating process seems purpose-built to winnow out anyone with broad appeal. It inspired Romney to push himself way to the right on immigration, reproductive rights, and taxing the rich. It will probably have a similar effect on anyone with broad general appeal in 2016.
Some contenders are probably doomed already. Chris Christie, who's gone from Fox News warrior to cuddly centrist in the past month, is, I suspect, already seen by 2016 GOP primary voters the way 2004 Democratic primary voters saw Joe Lieberman -- as a thoroughly unacceptable appeaser of the opposite party. Rand Paul is softening on immigration -- he's probably toast as well.
No, the demographic deck is not really stacked against the GOP for 2016 and beyond. But in all likelihood the GOP will continue to stack the deck against itself.