The GOP’s Angry Old White Guy Problem

Since their devastating defeat in the 2012 presidential and Senate elections, Republicans have gone through lots of soul searching and hand wringing.

The latest effort is by Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner in Commentary who lay out some sensible ideas about how their party can reach out to the emerging sectors of the electorate that gave a surprisingly comfortable re-election victory to President Barack Obama.

And then there are Republican voters, or at least a large subsection of them—to be specific, the angry old white men who were so vocal during the 2011-2012 primary season and who pushed GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney so far to the right that he could never Etch a Sketch his way back.

Well, they’re baaaack, much to the chagrin of the Gersons and other intelligent conservatives who probably wish they’d hide under a rock. Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican standard bearer, faced some of them down at a town hall meeting in Arizona last week and thereby revealed how difficult the challenge for Republicans will be.

The subject was illegal immigration, a hot-button issue in border states like Arizona, and the angry white guys were out in force. They had a point—to hold McCain to the tough line he took in his 2010 reelection bid—but beyond that, it was all rage and resentment.

The senator’s longest exchange was with a middle-aged man who said he was in law enforcement. (You can watch their “debate” on this video.)


An angry voter confronts Sen. John McCain at a town hall meeting in Arizona last week. Source: NBC News

An angry voter confronts Sen. John McCain at a town hall meeting in Arizona last week. Source: NBC News

This voter was full of the usual grievances and clichés we hear from this group. Here are a couple of his pearls of wisdom:

We have a large group of dependent people who you want to make citizens. They’re going to be on Medicare, they’re going to be on welfare, they’re going to be on food stamps…

Everybody in this audience right here …You’re taking away from their Social Security and giving it to a dependent class of people.

This voter’s “solution”? “Cut off their welfare and they’ll go back.” Other participants said guns were the only answer—so presumably a stepped-up border patrol assisted by citizen militias would shoot alleged illegal immigrants on sight.

Never mind that the Obama administration actually has deported 1.5 million illegals, the most in 50 years;  doubled the number of drones, security towers and miles of security fences, and spent more than $73 billion on border security in his first term, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

Nothing less than an airtight border would satisfy these voters—and that, of course, is impossible.

This all reminds me of the summer of 2009 when town hall meetings to discuss health care reform degenerated into raucous tirades by seniors who wanted to “keep government out of my Medicare.

I don’t live in a border state, and Arizona has borne the brunt of the immigration crisis. And I’m glad there are engaged voters pushing for less spending and fiscal responsibility

But the key question is will this segment continue to inject its extreme views and exercise veto power over the Republican platform and the candidates the party puts forward in 2016? And how will young people, minorities, and suburban women—the emerging America that elected Barack Obama twice—view policies imposed by this shrinking part of the population?

As I’ve written here many times, the GOP has a wealth of political talent, far deeper than the Democrats have. Unfortunately they may have to wait until at least some of their voters literally die out before they can even think of taking national power again.


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