The Coming Conservative Crack-Up

The GOP has to recognize what the demographic realities in the United States mean for its future.

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Here's a thought with which to wash down your egg nog: George W. Bush may be the last white male president of your lifetime. Hillary Clinton is already the favorite for the 2016 Democratic nomination and, given her party's apparent Electoral College advantage, the way-too-early frontrunner to (re)occupy the White House next. If that is the case—and especially if her victory is powered by Hispanics and women again flocking to Democrats—it's not unreasonable to foresee a 2020 GOP ticket headed by a Marco Rubio, Susana Martinez, Ted Cruz, Brian Sandoval, or even George P. Bush (one of Jeb's Mexican-American children, famously referred to by his grandfather as one of "the little brown ones").

Even if there are future white, male presidents, it's hard to argue that 2004 won't be the last time the major parties' tickets are populated by four white men.

[Read more from Robert Schlesinger in U.S. News Weekly, an insider's guide to politics and policy.]

This line of speculation is driven by the demographic realities of 2012: We have gone over a political-cultural tipping point where Republicans can no longer hope to win the White House by dominating the white vote. The era of fetishizing Reagan Democrats is ending. This fact is informing the GOP's post-election, post-mortem infighting, with some voices arguing that the party must adjust to the new reality. See, for example, Sean Hannity having "evolved" on immigration (he now favors a path to citizenship), and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's admonition that Republicans must "stop being the stupid party." Or as Colorado GOP Rep. Cory Gardner told Politico, "The GOP had better figure out that a big tent sounds good, but if there aren't any seats in it, what good is it."

But in watching the GOP's sorting, it's important to understand that its biggest obstacle to modernization is the party itself.

Think about the animating faction of the GOP in the Obama era—a group conservative in the literal sense of being angry with and afraid of change. These are the people who would show up at Tea Party rallies toting signs about the need to "Take Back America." For four years they were assured by the conservative entertainment complex that restoring the America they grew up in was a real possibility. The vertiginous changes remaking the land could be ascribed to Barack Obama, an illegitimate fluke of a president who won only because of a one-off surge of young and minority voters powered by excitement about his historic nature and vapid "hopey–changey" rhetoric. He was "Barack the Magic Negro," in Rush Limbaugh's formulation. He was, simultaneously, helpless without his teleprompter but also a radical instituting a nefarious plan to sap America of its God-given freedoms.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

He was the problem; real America was the solution.

The 2012 elections shattered that illusion. Obama was only a symptom of changes in the country, not the cause. Inexorable demographics have relegated the Tea Party's America to memory. So ask yourself, how are those voters likely to react? A warm embrace of the new America? Or, faced with an unacceptable reality, will they retrench in their fantasy and double down on crazy and angry?

Consider some data points. A dozen petitions on the White House's "We the People" website requesting that individual states be permitted to "peacefully" secede have each gotten more than 20,000 signatures (prompting retiring crank Ron Paul to call secession a "deeply American principle").

Not everyone wants to leave. Some still seek refuge from the new reality: 64,000 signed a "recount the election!" petition on the grounds that Obama received more votes in one Ohio county than there were eligible voters (he didn't). Dean Chambers, who had pioneered conservative retreat from the real world with his "unskewed polls" website has established what could be called an "unskewed reality" website devoted to asserting without evidence that Obama must have won through voter fraud. The National Tea Party managed a zeitgeist twofer in an E-mail to supporters last week exhorting them to both sign a recount petition and a secession petition. An Idaho state senator, promoting an idea that had reportedly been making the rounds in Tea Party blogs, called for red state electors to boycott the Electoral College, denying it a quorum and presumably throwing the election to the GOP-controlled House of Representatives (nope—there's no such thing as an Electoral College quorum). More parochially, Maine's Republican Party chairman saw voter fraud after "dozens of black people … came in and voted on Election Day," because "nobody in town knows anyone who's black."