Nate Cohn lays out the dismal future for the Republican Party if it tries to get by with its present electoral coalition:
The problem for Republicans is simple: They built relatively durable, ideological coalitions immediately before a new generation of socially moderate and diverse voters completely upended the electoral calculus. In 2012, voters over age 30 went for Romney by 1.5 points—a result that shouldn’t surprise observers of the Bush elections. But the persistent and narrow GOP lean of the 2000 and 2004 electorates was overwhelmed by Obama’s 24-point victory among 18-to-29-year-olds. Democratic success with young voters is a product of demographics, not just Obama’s fleeting appeal or Bush’s legacy. Just 58 percent of 18-to-29-year-old voters were white in 2012 and 19 percent said they have no religious affiliation; in comparison, 76 percent of voters over 30 were white and only 10 percent were non-religious.
The ascent of millennial voters has turned the Bush coalition into a coffin—and the coffin could be sealed in 2016. It was frequently observed that a Romney victory would have required a historic performance among white voters, provided that Obama could match his ’08 performance among non-white voters. Bush’s 2004 performance among white voters wouldn’t get it done anymore. In 2016, the math gets even more challenging. If the white share of the electorate declines further, Republicans won’t just need to match their best performance of the last 24 years among white voters, they’ll also need to match their best performance of the last 24 years among non-white voters. If they can’t make the requisite 16-point gain among non-white voters—a tall order, to say the least—then the next Republican candidate will enter truly uncharted territory, potentially needing to win up to 64 percent of the white vote just to break 50 percent of the popular vote.
But there’s an ever better reason for Republicans, and conservatives, to change: GOP policies of the past decade proved utterly bankrupt. An activist foreign policy, tax cuts and financialization, and more heat than light on social issues produced a nation at the end of the Bush years deep in recession, mired in two occupations (one of which continues to this day), and trending away from traditional values. It’s hard to imagine a rout more comprehensive, and it occurred after “conservative” Republicans had held Congress for most of two full presidential terms.
Why would a party even want to go back to that? Why would any but the most hell-bent ideologue want to stick with what hasn’t worked? The GOP might make some terrible missteps in trying to reform, but no one should want it to return to the Bush era and the high-water mark of post-1960s conservatism, even if the party could still win elections playing its old hand. Luckily, philosophical conservatism is deeper and more capacious than the Bush coalition and its failed ideology. A new audience for timeless sources, newly applied, is what the thinking conservative ought to aspire to.