Republicans did not win in 2012 because we are too white, too male and too old. Some still don’t want to face the truth that we lost because the fastest-growing sectors of our population are entrenched in the Democratic Party. We did not win because Republicans failed to acknowledge this reality and move forward fearlessly. If that doesn’t change, we will not just be committing political malpractice. It will be political suicide.
This does not mean we should abandon our conservative principles. As the chairman of the American Conservative Union, I understand that we are a center-right country. We conservatives do not need to change our beliefs, but we do have to change the way we market and talk about them.
The 2008 losses were expected. We had had eight years of a Republican administration, the wear and tear of division within our ranks, and a Republican nominee whose strength was not the economy. The economy predictably was the focus after an unprecedented meltdown occurred in the final stages of that election.
Up until Election Day 2012, we fully expected to win. After a dismal four years economically, President Obama seemed to be the most vulnerable incumbent since Jimmy Carter. But the Nov. 6 elections resulted in one disappointment after another, leaving conservatives angry, bewildered and unsure about where we go from here.
Postelection analyses by some leaders in the GOP are almost as troubling as the demographic realities we are facing in 2016.
We heard from high-profile GOP guests that the “far right” — code word for conservatives — was at fault. Really? How did voters respond to a conservative message in 2010? Taking back the House speaks for itself. Moreover, a reading of the RNC’s platform showed a clear conservative consensus. For many in our camp, even that was not enough to unite us.
“Establishment” members of our party blamed conservatives for our failure to reach out to the “middle.” In that case, why did Mitt Romney win the majority of independent voters? Republican divisions could be partly to blame, but the question still remains: Why did we really lose?
Mr. Obama is the only incumbent in American history to have been re-elected with fewer votes than in his initial election. His weak standing should have created an opportunity for a GOP-Romney win in spite of all the self-praise Democrats are heaping on one another. The reality is that Republicans failed to recruit voters from growing demographics and concentrated too heavily on the old, white and male populations.
Mr. Romney received 59 percent of the white vote on election night. That’s the highest percentage of any Republican candidate challenging an incumbent president in U.S. history — including Ronald Reagan — according to exit-polling data. That reliably Republican constituency will continue to decrease rapidly as a percentage of the overall vote. In fact, whites are projected to be 68 percent of the vote in 2016 and to become the minority vote in our country by the 2020s.
There were not enough conservatives, establishment Republicans and a majority of independents — combined — for us to win in 2012 — and that won’t change in 2016 if our party maintains the status quo. We need support and votes from a larger share of youth, women and minorities.
The greatest gains to be had are with Latinos — the fastest-growing voting bloc in our country. In fact, 23.7 million Hispanics were eligible to vote in 2012, and most of them were young voters. When you consider that 1 out of 5 Americans today and one-fifth of all children in public schools are Hispanic, it is easy to recognize the importance of this community in discussions about electoral politics.
A demographic breakdown of this community is promising to conservatives: More than 3 million Hispanics are small-business owners, more than 120,000 are serving in our military, and a majority bring with them a strong faith — including an evangelical Christian and Catholic support system.
The Republican message has resonated with Hispanics before. Both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush received more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. This was not by happenstance. They worked at it, and they respected our community. Reagan and Mr. Bush also were the last two presidents to make immigration reform a priority, an issue on which the conservative movement and Republican Party need to take a lead in order to open the gates to a waiting constituency.
Many in our conservative movement see the 2012 elections as the beginning of the end of American exceptionalism and the dawn of the sure decline of our civilization. I disagree. Far too many Americans have given the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our nation and move the great American experiment forward. I am not giving up — and neither should you. America is changing. While we must stay ever fervent in our values, our conservative message and tone must evolve. The future of our movement and our country depends on it.
Al Cardenas is chairman of the American Conservative Union.