Should Republicans Just Focus on White Voters?

In the NYT, Tom Edsall has an op-ed titled “Should Republicans Just Focus on White Voters?” He quotes Phyllis Schlafly from a recent radio appearance:

The people the Republicans should reach out to are the white votes — the white voters who didn’t vote in the last election. And there are millions of them. And I think when you have an establishment-run nomination system, they give us a series of losers, which they’ve given us with Dole, and McCain, and Romney.

Of the Phyllis Schlafly / Pat Buchanan wing of conservatism, Edsall notes:

Buchanan and Schlafly thrive on a willingness to say — without regard to appearances — what others privately think but don’t want to be caught saying openly.

Edsall then briefly profiles three GOP strategies as embodied by Sean Trende, who entertains the tactical feasibility of a racial polarization scenario, Timothy Carney, a columnist for the Washington Examiner, who argues for a free-market populism, and Karl Rove, who we all know forwards a “full Rubio” strategy. Of Trende’s racial polarization scenario, Edsall writes:

Trende’s most controversial assertion is that from a purely tactical point of view, Republican dependence on whites is not necessarily a liability, despite the decline in the white share of the electorate:

Democrats liked to mock the G.O.P. as the ‘Party of White People’ after the 2012 elections. But from a purely electoral perspective, that’s not a terrible thing to be.

The core of Trende’s case for his “racial polarization” scenario, as he makes it on RealClearPolitics, is his analysis showing a 6.1 million drop in the white vote from 2008 to 2012. Trende draws his data from the Census, exit polls and county-by-county election results.

By Trende’s calculation, voters who failed to turn out in 2012 were disproportionately Republican-leaning, “largely downscale, Northern, rural whites.” If all 6.1 million had cast ballots in 2012, it would not have been enough for Romney to win, but the election would have been much closer.

In Trende’s “ ‘racial polarization’ scenario,” the political divergence between white and minority America becomes steadily more extreme. Whites, who cast 59 percent of their votes for Romney in 2012, would become more Republican over the next few decades, casting a record-setting 70 percent of their votes for Republicans by 2036. Minorities, blacks, Hispanics and Asian Americans, who cast 80 percent of their votes for Obama in 2012, would, in Trende’s “polarization” scenario, be casting 90 percent of their ballots for Democratic candidates by 2036.

Trende put these and other assumptions on turnout rates into an interactive Electoral College calculator developed by my colleague Nate Silver, and produced results (Figure 1) showing that Republicans could win the presidency for seven straight elections between 2016 and 2040….

All of Trende’s scenarios are theoretically possible, but the question is: are they realistic?  Addressing only the racial polarization projection, it’s hard to see 70 percent of the white vote going to Republicans. Richard Nixon in 1972 and Ronald Reagan in 1984, both incumbents running against very weak Democratic opponents, set records for white Republican support, 67 percent and 64 percent, respectively, and no Republican has broken 60 percent since then.

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