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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Republican Party can gain edge through its diversity

opinion@dailylobo.com

Diversity.

It’s a word that many would somewhat cynically — and as some would insist, more truthfully — associate with Democrats more than Republicans. However, the great irony is that for the 2016 presidential race, the trend appears to be reversing.

Let’s take a look at some Democratic candidates. These include, most realistically, Hillary Clinton, as well as Joe Biden. And let’s not forget the somewhat more unrealistic but still wildly popular choices among Progressive Democrats, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

The commonalities: all are white, and all are over age 60. In fact, Biden and Sanders are both over 70.

Contrast that with some 2016 Republican possibilities: Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

Yes, both Chris Christie and Rand Paul are both white. However, Marco Rubio is Cuban-American, and Ted Cruz is a Cuban-Italian-Irish-Canadian-American melting pot unto himself.

In addition to the varied ethnicities, also take note: both Rubio and Cruz are under 50; the other two, Christie and Paul, are both only 51.

For the first time in a while, it’s not the GOP that’s fielding white and/or old and not very diverse candidates, and this dramatic change for the party probably has something to do with the major Republican brand problem.

In recent years, the Republican Party has been popularly associated mainly with rich old white men. Running septuagenarian John McCain in 2008 didn’t help, and perhaps neither did running former business tycoon and Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in 2012.

But with this new possible lineup, Republicans have variety. However, you may not see many, if any, of these candidates considered seriously come 2016.

That’s basically because along with being young and diverse, all of these prospective candidates are planted firmly outside the Republican establishment which encompasses neoconservatives and the religious right.

That establishment is not going to let libertarians and moderates represent what they see as their party on a national scale. We saw that already with the virtual freezing out of Ron Paul from the party’s presidential nomination in 2008 and the derision heaped upon Chris Christie for his bipartisanism in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

That’s of course not even beginning to get into the mess surrounding Ted Cruz and his vocal anti-government line, including his debt ceiling brinkmanship in Congress, and Rand Paul’s active libertarianism on the march.

While these candidates’ electability is still in question, it’s readily apparent that a diversity shift is occurring in the Republican Party. And it’s not just the 2016 presidential candidates that reflect the new Republican diversity. That can be found at the state level as well.

For starters, there’s Governors Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Susana Martinez of New Mexico, who are both Hispanic. In addition, there’s Governors Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Nikki Haley of South Carolina, both Indian-American.

By comparison, Democrat state governors are almost entirely white. The sole exception is Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, an African-American.

Also, though the Senate is overwhelmingly white, Republicans hold a slim edge with three minority senators (Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Tim Scott) to the Democrats’ two (Robert Menendez and Mazie Hirono.)

It’s a good start for Republicans, but Democrats still hold the diversity edge by far in the House, with 61 women representatives to the Republicans’ 20, 41 African-American representatives compared with the lone African-American GOP representative, 23 Hispanic representatives compared with five for Republicans and 12 Asian representatives compared with none on the Republican side.

Quite simply, the GOP must change or face a dramatic drop-off in electoral support that will only continue to decline. While the presidency is a perhaps an unrealistic opportunity for reinventing the party in one fell swoop due to the strong establishment line, Republicans show promise on a state level, and could potentially sweep the rug out from underneath the Democrats if they play their cards right concerning Senate diversity.

And that could be where the key lies to reinventing their party and circumventing the control of the neoconservatives and religious right.

For a party that prides itself on advocating for a less-intrusive federal government and more powers reserved to the states, a diversity movement born of the states and working its way up to the national level through governors and congress people may be just what the Republicans need to adjust their party to the new realities of 21st century voting demographics.