June 28, 2013

Next week, the federal student loan rate is likely to double, thanks to legislative inaction. Democrats are working to pass a bill that would fix interest rates at 3.4 percent —reversing the increase — but the odds for Republican support (especially in the House) — are low, despite the extent to which this small step could go a long way toward improving the GOP’s standing with young people.

Not that Republican opposition would come as a surprise. So far, in conversations over GOP reform, the focus is on nonwhite voters, and Latinos in particular. That’s why comprehensive immigration reform has become the test of whether Republicans are interested in broadening their appeal beyond the older whites who form the core of their support.

But the Republican National Committee’s election post-mortem, released a few months ago to significant fanfare, focused on more than just Latino voters. The RNC also urged Republicans to strengthen their appeal to women and younger Americans, citing President Obama’s success with both demographics. This call has been less successful. On women, the report says, “Republicans need to make a better effort at listening to female voters, directing their policy proposals at what they learn from women, and communicating that they understand what a woman who is balancing many responsibilities is going through.” And on young people, the RNC pushes Republicans to “change our tone — especially on certain social issues that are turning off young voters.”

On both, Republicans have done the opposite. If there’s been a stand-out political story this week, it’s the rapid rise of Texas state senator Wendy Davis to national prominence, following her 11-hour filibuster of a highly restrictive anti-abortion bill. She received a further boost yesterday, after Texas Gov.Rick Perry attacked her motives and experiences during a speech to the National Right to Life convention. In both instances, the rhetoric and behavior of male Republicans incensed female observers and activists, leading to further support for Davis and reinforcing the view that Republicans are indifferent to the concerns of women.

Likewise, the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act — which it struck down on a 5–4 vote — was met with disappointment and calls for resistance from Republican lawmakers. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul wondered if the ruling would lead to beastiality, while House Speaker John Boehner announced his hope that state legislatures would fill the vacuum by defining marriage as “between a man and a woman.” Even New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — who has built a political career around his supposed “moderation” — declared his dissatisfaction with the ruling on procedural grounds, a cover for his overall opposition to marriage equality.

When you add GOP inaction on student loans into the mix — and the loud, intra-party fight over immigration reform — what you have is a political party that has responded to a losing presidential election by reemphasizing the traits that alienated a wide mix of voters. There’s a good chance this won’t cost them in next year’s elections — given the demographic composition of the midterm electorate — but it’s hard to say that it helps.

Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer at The American Prospect, where he writes a blog.