May 11, 2009 at 10:27AM
by Jim DiPeso
First, Olympia Snowe said it. Then Christine Todd Whitman. Then Colin Powell. Then Peggy Noonan. And now Tom Ridge.
These Republican worthies are saying that the Republican Party has pasted itself so hard to the far right wall of the political spectrum that it's in danger of calcifying into an angry rump that hangs on every screech from Lord Rush but has dwindling appeal for the majority of Americans who don't.
Said Tom Ridge: "My view has always been whether you're from the right or the left, liberal or conservative, that we don't demonize each other because of what they believe. And for us as a party to grow back into a majority party, we need to understand that."
Said Peggy Noonan: "A great party cannot live by constantly subtracting, by removing or shunning those who are not faithful to every aspect of its beliefs, or who don't accept every pole, or who are just barely fitting under the tent. Room should be made for them."
Said Christie Whitman: "Our democracy desperately needs two vibrant parties. And for Republicans to be that second party, we need to remind the nation of the principles for which we once stood."
One of those principles is good stewardship of our natural heritage. The Republican Party's achievements include it. The health and prospects of future generations require it. The philosophical tenets of traditional conservatism demand it.
But the ideologues breathing talk radio's exhaust will have none of it. They have convinced themselves that they represent a "silent majority" that will rise up and seize the nation's tiller, if only they do a better job of dividing, excluding, polarizing, and shouting.
The evidence suggests otherwise. Self-identified Republicans have fallen to their lowest proportion of the electorate in years. As The Economist pointed out in its current edition, "the party is rapidly disappearing from whole swathes of America."
One of those swathes is today's cohort of young adults. According to pollster Kristen Soltis from the Winston Group, the proportion of people aged 18-29 who identify as Democrats is at its highest point since 1972. In 2008, Democrats held a 7-point advantage over Republicans in party identification within the entire electorate. Among 18-29-year-olds, however, the Democrats' advantage was 18 points.
Republicans who think that young people will shift rightward as they age are kidding themselves, according to Soltis. The data from previous cohorts of young people don't support that political folk tale.
If Republicans don't appeal to the concerns of today's young people - which include the environment - "this generation may exhibit similarly low levels of Republican identification for years to come," Soltis wrote recently in Pollster.com.
The laws of biology are unyielding. Young people are the future. Only a party with a death wish would drive them away.
Remember the Whigs? No? The what-me-worry Republicans who value division over inclusion ought to read up on what happened to America's previous conservative party. Don't think that what happened to the Whigs couldn't happen again.