Looking back all the way to America’s Civil War, there have been three dominant presidential coalitions.
The first was Abraham Lincoln’s. With his war to restore the Union and his martyrdom, Lincoln inaugurated an era of Republican dominance that lasted more than seven decades and saw only two Democratic presidents: Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson.
The second coalition was FDR‘s, where he and his vice president Harry Truman won five consecutive presidential elections. Only Gen. Eisenhower could break that streak.
The third was Richard Nixon’s New Majority, cobbled together after his narrow 1968 victory, where he annexed the Northern Catholic ethnics and Southern Christian conservatives of FDR‘s coalition to win 49 states in 1972. Ronald Reagan would follow up with 44- and 49-state landslides and see his vice president win 40 states in 1988.
That New Majority is now history. In the five elections since 1992, Republicans have won the popular vote once — in 2004. And while Mitt Romney is slightly ahead in polls today, reaching 270 electoral votes will be no easy task. The electoral map is becoming problematic.
According to GOP Chairman Reince Priebus, the party has a 3-2-1 strategy. While holding all the states McCain won, the party must first recapture three red states that Barack Obama carried: Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia. Next, Romney must carry the two major battleground states that Obama won last time: Ohio and Florida. Third, add one more state Obama carried in 2008, like Colorado. Then the GOP is home.
Yet with the exception of Indiana, none of those six states seems close to secure. And the GOP must win them all. And now Missouri, after Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” gaffe, has moved from Republican red into the undecided column.
The good news: With Paul Ryan on the ticket, Wisconsin is in play, and Mitt’s birth state, Michigan, is getting a second look.
Yet consider the uphill struggle the GOP faces in a year when the election should be a cakewalk.
Though he has four straight trillion-dollar deficits and 42 months of 8 percent unemployment to his credit, Obama appears to already have four of the seven mega-states — California, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York — secure and is more than competitive in Ohio and Florida.
Looking to the future, what is the Republican strategy ever again to win New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois or California, other than due to some national calamity or new depression?
Where the Democratic base seems secure, the GOP base, the South from the Potomac to the Pedernales, is seeing Democratic encroachments — in Florida, Virginia and North Carolina.
Moreover, while the Nixon-Reagan coalition was united on the mega-issues of morality and patriotism, today’s GOP is fragmenting on everything except the imperative of removing Obama.
One hears scarcely a peep of protest at Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet U.S. influence is sinking in Baghdad as a new civil war is stirring, and the Taliban’s return after the U.S. departure from Afghanistan seems a certainty. Where have all the uber-hawks gone?
The caws of Sen. John McCain and the neoconservatives for intervention in Syria and an ultimatum to Tehran to halt the enrichment of uranium or face a U.S. attack is echoed by some evangelicals. But foreign policy “realists,” libertarians and the anti-interventionist right, all of whom are urging us to stay out of any new war, seem more in tune with the times — and the country.
The GOP used to be united on a traditionalist view of social and moral issues. Now, not only the Log Cabin Club, but libertarians and some moderate Republicans are receptive to the idea of homosexual marriage. And the ticket of Romney-Ryan accepts abortion in the case of incest or rape.
Once the principled position is yielded, where do we draw the line? At what point does constant accommodation cause True Believers to depart?
Priebus said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that Republicans will cut federal spending from 25 percent of gross domestic product, roughly where it is today, to 20 percent. But a cut of 5 percent of GDP translates into a budget reduction of $750 billion.
That is one-fifth of the entire U.S. budget.
While the Republicans would seek to achieve such a reduction over a period of years, such budget butchery is unheard of in modern times.
Where are the cuts to come from?
Social Security and Medicare are the largest social programs. But the beneficiaries of those middle-class entitlements are seniors and retirees, the big divisions of the Republican army. And Mitt has assured these folks he is not going to cut Medicare.
As for defense, Mitt says we need to spend more. And though the Rand Paul wing of the party is open to cuts in military spending, and some conservatives are ready to see bases closed abroad, this would cause a revolt among congressional hawks, neoconservatives, and executives and lobbyists of the military-industrial complex who show up at all those Washington fundraisers.
Mitt Romney and the Republicans have a shot at taking it all this year. But beyond, one sees only darkening skies for the Grand Old Party.