The Washington Post

Ruy Texeira: ‘Republicans can’t keep playing on the turf they’ve been playing on.’

Ruy Teixeira is a senior fellow at both the Center for American Progress and the Century Foundation. In 2002, he and The New Republic's John Judis wrote The Emerging Democratic Majority, arguing that demographic shifts like the growing black, Asian and Latino populations and the decline of manufacturing and growth of creative industries would redound to Democrats' benefit. Last night arguably proved them right. We spoke on the phone Wednesday morning; a transcript, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.

Dylan Matthews: Last night was a pretty good one for your theory, from the looks of it.

Ruy Texeira: Prior to the election I wrote a lot of stuff, and I'm hardly the only one to say these things, just pointing out these ongoing changes and pointing out how difficult it was going to be for Romney to take the election, given what the minority vote was going to be, and their support for Obama, and the nature of these shifts which suggested there would be more, not fewer, minority voters in this election.

And then it turned out to be pretty much the way I expected. It's always nice when your assessments seem to be pretty close to the mark. This has been going on for a while, and has been confirmed in the 2010 Census and some previous elections, but some people are still behind the curve. Perhaps this will convince a few of the doubters.

DM: One interesting wrinkle is that it's not just that more minorities are voting, and voting for Democrats—25 percent compared to 22 percent in the exit polls. It's that more voters than ever before are identifying as liberals. Is that just an outgrowth of the changes in ethnic makeup of the electorate?

RT: We know that minorities are more likely to identify as liberals, as well as members of the millenial generation, who came out in greater numbers than people expected. But some of that change may be due to more people being interested in identifying as liberals. Obama did argue at some length about the role of government, and these social issues are close to almost being settled. Gay marriage has gone from something politicians didn't dare talk about to something the president publicly endorses, and we see, state after state, that public opinion starts to move rapidly in that direction. It's not just moving, it's accelerated. But I haven't sat down and analyzed that question, on identifying as liberals, so it might not be wise to say more.

DM: A lot of these same demographic changes led some to expect same-sex marriage initiatives to go down due to black opposition. But that didn't happen.

RT: That didn't surprise me. I wrote about this at the time and I thought if you looked at the data, on the one hand, as I was just mentioning, this move on the part of the president would fit pretty well with some of these constituencies like young people and that might really help him, but I also thought if you looked at the data for African-Americans and Hispanics, the change was quite rapid. We're quite close to a tipping point in these subpopulations.

Hispanics, in particular, are not more much conservative than non-Hispanic whites on this. And I just didn't think African-Americans were conservative enough to vote against the first black president. We know that African-Americans don't vote on these issues. Other things are more important to them. It turned out to not make any difference, except as a positive for Obama.

DM: What are the policy takeaways? Obviously Republican attitudes on immigration probably played a role with HIspanics, but did anything else help Obama run up the margins there?

RT: I wrote a piece arguing that [GOP stances on immigration], in terms of projecting hostility toward that population, it clearly hurt them. But I also thought if you looked at Hispanics' other opinions — opinions on the economy and opinions on the role of government, on education — just look at a wide variety of views on who can handle the economy, they're very much aligned with the Democratic Party, and an activist view of government, and not with the hardcore, quasi-libertarian approach of the Republicans, which putting Paul Ryan on the ticket seemed to underscore.

It wasn't just immigration, but the general Republican stance on the role of government. I don't think it just needs to be moving to the center on immigration, though that would certainly help. It needs to move on the role of government.

DM: The Anthony Downs [a Brookings public policy expert] I've read tells me that there's eventually going to be an adjustment so that the two parties are at rough parity with each other. Do you see that happening soon? And will that entail more GOP moderation?

RT: Downs' theories are good ones and they make a lot of sense, but it all depends on the time frame. As we know, political parties aren't like people buying fish in the market. They respond much more slowly to market signals. Think about how long it took Democrats to respond to changing views of the welfare state.

Sean Trende, who's a smart analyst on the Republican side, wrote a book where he argued it was almost a mirage, Democratic strength among Hispanics. Their coalition will not be stable, Republicans would retake that group. There is no realignment, everything depends on chance, nothing really changes.

So that's a long-winded way of saying yeah, I think the Republicans will eventually move to the center. I think they'll be debating about that and I think they'll be effective once they do it. But there may be demographic changes that their policies work better within. Every election doesn't start out with both parties having a 50-50 shot at being elected, and sometimes you start out with one party getting a clear advantage, which sets the agenda in which the election takes place.

I think one of the lessons of the election is that the Republicans can't keep playing on the turf they've been playing on. I don't think [moderating] will necessarily be that successful to begin with. It depends on how fast they change, and how well the economy recovers in the second term. If it recovers fast, I think that will really hurt them. It will start to induce them to think more clearly about moving to the center if they hope to compete. It may be a very long process.

DM: You've talked a lot about shifts on the economy and social issues. What about foreign policy? Are we seeing similar demographic shifts there?

RT: If you do look at the views on America's role in the world, and break it down by some of these demographic groups, the growing groups have a more dovish, internationalist view than some of the Republicans. There's a strong generational component to this. You might think as we move forward we'll see a pressure on the foreign policy environment to be less America-first, less “military solutions are the best solution.” This recent history of Republican adventurism, and its failure, underscores some of these emerging views on what America's proper role in the world is.

It's not as clear, in generational terms, as same-sex marriage but I do think there's a clear trend that'll lead us in a different direction in terms of foreign policy.



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