Ryan Sager notes the problems that the GOP will have in future elections if it continues to ignore soft Republicans in favor of its core Bible-thumping constituents. His column today is a distillation of a larger piece he wrote for The Atlantic Monthly with this premise: the Republicans have ignored (or abandoned) their advantages on small government, low tax, and fiscal responsibility issues in favor of the family issues most important to their Southern voting base.
This is unwise for three reasons: (1) libertarians who vote Republican will NOT do so if the GOP fails to offer a significantly different fiscal program from Democrats (low taxes, less regulation, less corporate welfare); (2) religious conservatives have no choice BUT to vote Republican if they want their issues to get any attention -- they have become the blacks of the GOP, a reliable core base that is so tied to the party that it will not vote for the other side; (3) the libertarians who vote Republican are the ONLY group keeping the red states of the mountain west from turning blue and they do NOT like the social interventionist politics of the religiocons.
As Sager notes:
Three demographic trends are converging to turn our red mountains purple. First, there's the growing Latino population throughout the West. True, Bush has done OK with these voters, getting about 40% nationwide in 2004. But the GOP is in the midst of an anti-immigrant conniption, and Latino voters still identify with the Democratic Party by a margin of roughly three to one.
Second, the states of the interior West are generally less religious than those of the South. Evangelicals make up 29% to 34% of the populations in the eight Mountain West states (Utah, with its large Mormon population, is an exception). That compares with 73% in Mississippi, 51% in Texas and 44% in Kansas.
Third — and related to the first two trends — the interior West is filling up with migrants from the Golden State. Picture a bucket of blue paint on the coast overflowing and spilling east.
That last is the most pernicious threat. The increasing number of ex-Californians, Gen-X and Gen-Y types who couldn't afford to live in California and moved a little bit to the East, means an influx of liberal voters into the mountain states. Combine that with a loss of libertarian voters (who will stay home on election day or vote Democrat if the Republicans abandon libertarian principles), and the mountain states are no longer Republican locks at election time. Key case in point: Montana, where the Dems are likely to knock out a sitting Republican Senator, Conrad Burns, in November.