Maybe it’s because “Mad Men” ended Sunday, forcing many of us to contemplate our own fades to black, but there was a dark tone to many of the political stories at the start of the week. (For more on the “Mad Men” finale, see Fr. James Martin’s thoughts on “Don Draper’s Nirvana.”)
Politico’s Daniel J. McGraw contributed to the ghoulish atmosphere with “The GOP Is Dying Off. Literally,” which reads like an ad man’s pitch to a client in need of a major image update. (In the “Mad Men” universe, Peggy or Pete would make the argument, since Don’s weakness for nostalgia would make Mitt Romney seem cutting-edge.) “The party’s core is dying off by the day,” writes McGraw. One can only speculate whether the same is true of Politico’s readership, and whether articles like this will catch the attention of the younger and less civic-minded.
McGraw lays out the brutal facts: “Since the average Republican is significantly older than the average Democrat, far more Republicans than Democrats have died since the 2012 elections…. By combining presidential election exit polls with mortality rates per age group from the U.S. Census Bureau, I calculated that, of the 61 million who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, about 2.75 million will be dead by the 2016 election. President Barack Obama’s voters, of course, will have died too—about 2.3 million of the 66 million who voted for the president won’t make it to 2016 either. That leaves a big gap in between, a difference of roughly 453,000 in favor of the Democrats.”
This is merely a trend, and no trend involving human behavior lasts forever. McGraw lets a demographer make the obvious point that if the Republican Party changes its “focus,” it could suddenly improve its popularity among younger voters. It’s also true that if Republicans are dying off, then the voters who are picking current Republican nominees are dying off, eventually giving a new generation the chance to reshape the party. It’s a two-party system, and the voters with the deepest grievances against the Democrats, no matter their age, are going to control the agenda of the GOP.
For now, however, several Republican presidential candidates seem to be targeting older voters who aren’t comfortable with the present, let alone the future.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio this week announced a new, ominous slogan: “Nothing Matters If We Are Not Safe.” Playing to the hell-in-a-handbasket crowd, Rubio writes on his website, “The world has never been more dangerous than it is today,” thanks to “multiple threats to our national security.”
New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait thinks Rubio is “not just wrong but insanely wrong,” arguing that Nazi Germany and the nuclear arsenal of the Soviet Union posed threats greater than anything facing the United States today. Chait theorizes that Rubio’s slogan is meant to divert attention from domestic issues, in case the Republican predictions that President Barack Obama would ruin the economy do not come to pass. But the slogan is even more flexible than that. “Nothing Matters If We Are Not Safe” could be part of a law-and-order campaign, to be deployed in the event of riots or protests like the ones we recently saw in Baltimore. (Do motorcycle gangs evoke the same fears? Not as of yet.) It is also a durable slogan, since it is inconceivable for any president to declare, “OK, we are now safe.” Rubio is essentially promising a permanent state of emergency in the United States, but his rhetoric may comfort some voters. (Older Americans in particular are prone to see rising crime rates that aren’t there).
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, fighting a reputation for a complacent attitude toward changes in American life, tried for a more concerned tone (more than rueful, not quite alarmist) in an interview that aired Sunday on the Christian Broadcasting Network. Speaking about the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court will soon find same-sex marriage to be a constitutional right, Bush fretted, “It’s thousands of years of culture and history just being changed at warp speed. It’s hard to fathom why it is this way.”
Given that younger voters overwhelmingly favor marriage rights for gays and lesbians, Bush risks turning the Republican message into “You kids are ruining this country!” But David Brody, who interviewed Bush for CBN, writes that Bush is on the right track:
“His challenge will be to convince socially conservative GOP primary voters that his compassion doesn’t necessarily translate into capitulation, weakness, and a label as the ‘squishy moderate.’”
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who launched a “presidential exploratory committee” on Monday, does not have to worry about looking like a squish. His big toe in the water was an April column in the New York Times headlined “I’m Holding Firm Against Gay Marriage.” Jindal was frustrated by the role of the business community in watering down laws in Arkansas and Indiana that would have allowed individuals, based on their religious convictions, to refuse to provide goods and services to same-sex weddings. His column, which brings to mind Ben Franklin’s adage about hanging together or hanging separately, urges business leaders to put aside any personal convictions about same-sex marriage in the interest of preserving capitalism. Gay weddings, it appears, are like fluoride in our drinking water, bringing the Communists ever closer to their goal of seizing the Coca-Cola Company.
“If we, as conservatives, are to succeed in advancing the cause of freedom and free enterprise,” Jindal writes, “the business community must stand shoulder to shoulder with those fighting for religious liberty. The left-wing ideologues who oppose religious freedom are the same ones who seek to tax and regulate businesses out of existence.… Those who believe in freedom must stick together: If it’s not freedom for all, it’s not freedom at all. This strategy requires populist social conservatives to ally with the business community on economic matters and corporate titans to side with social conservatives on cultural matters. This is the grand bargain that makes freedom’s defense possible.”
This is amazing rhetoric, evoking the imminent danger of defeat by a larger foreign power—an evil empire, if you will. Sanction gay marriage and the American way of life will collapse. This dark vision may help Jindal raise campaign funds, but most of the other GOP candidates, mindful of the challenge in attracting younger voters next November, will probably be more selective in their alarmism.