The Republican Party's future: evolve or die

If the GOP is to avoid becoming completely irrelevant, it needs to embrace people who actually understand modern America.

While President Obama’s supporters bask in re-election glory, America’s conservatives have been left asking themselves how and why their man managed to lose this election and what they can do to ensure a Republican win in 2016.  

The truth is that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why Romney lost. His failure is obvious to anyone who exists outside of the conservative bubble. People voted not just against Romney, but against his party’s values and what the Republican Party has come to stand for, particularly on social issues like race, women's rights, gay marriage and immigration, in recent years. The question now is what the future of the party is.

When, after the 2008 election, the party took a sharp shift to the right and fully embraced the Tea Party as its "base", it embraced ideology over pragmatism, and decided that fanaticism based on nostalgia for a (older, white, male, deeply religious, exclusive) America of yesteryear was better than keeping up with the pace of progress. 

The Tea Party – and other radicals like those in the Birther movement who have spent a great deal of time on petty issues such as demanding President Obama’s birth certificate - was allowed to become synonymous with mainstream conservatism, even though it is really a fringe group made up of a small number of people. This led to the Republican brand falling into an even sadder state than it had been after eight years of George Bush's contentious presidency. 

Unable to accept the shifting social, cultural and demographic realities of modern America, the Republican Party clung to the idea that it could fight the direction in which the country is moving and thought little of alienating key voting blocs such as women and minorities - to its own detriment. 

These past two elections have seen a huge increase in non-white voters and increased support from women, youth and minorities that was enough to swing the vote in President Obama’s favour in 2012 as they did in 2008. Whether or not conservatives like it, these groups hold the key to the future and will only gain in power and number. In other words, they will not be ignored. 

In the post-election analysis, some have started to acknowledge this fact, with former House speaker Newt Gingrich admitting that he and others like Karl Rove were "wrong" about Romney's prospects. "We all thought we understood the historical pattern and the fact that with this level of unemployment, with this level of gasoline pricing what would happen...,” he said.  

On the Huffington Post, a Republican strategist also outlines the level of disconnect that the current party has with the country:

  • We thought young voters would not turn out at the same level as 2008. They did. In fact, they represented 19 per cent of the electorate per exit polls--as high, if not higher, than four years ago.
  • We said that Democrats would not be +6 over Republicans and if they were, Obama would win. Well, they did and he did. Again, exit polls say Democrats were +6. Romney needed the proportion of Republicans and Democrats to be even to win.
  • We thought minority turnout would be lower than 2008. It was not. In several important precincts in key states, minorities voted in numbers equal to - and in some cases better than - four years ago.
  • We thought Romney would win Independents by double digits. He won them, but by just five points.
  • We thought Romney would have a huge gender advantage among men; it was only seven points. Meanwhile, the President won women by 11 points.
  • We thought Romney would dominate on being "better able to handle the economy." He only beat the President on this issue by a few points. Not enough.

This level of flawed thinking is stunning.

If the Republican Party is to move away from being seen as fringe and disconnected, it needs new leadership that will embrace the mainstream, acknowledge the country's changes and face reality head on. It needs people who actually understand modern America - perhaps themselves young, brown, female. But this must go beyond mere tokenism. 

Republicans would do well to denounce the deeply unpopular Tea Party as its base and admonish the racist, misogynist, fanatics that it brings with it. It would benefit from separating itself from people like the sensationalist Donald Trump, Todd "legitimate rape" Akins (who lost his Tea Party seat in Missouri) and people of their ilk, moving away from the extreme right to a more palatable middle ground for those who may be fiscally conservative yet socially moderate or liberal. It should speak to people and ask them what they need and what they’d like to see from the party. 

Those who put millions of dollars into super PACs with very little, if any, return on investment should realize that more than money, the party needs a strong sense of purpose and vision that resonates with a wider range of Americans.

I’m no Republican, but even I have been shocked by the party's lack of understanding about the direction of the country and their arrogance in believing that somehow they can ignore, dismiss, denigrate and insult large swathes of the voting population and still win. The Republican Party of today risks becoming irrelevant in future years if it cannot get with the programme. 

It is time for a new "base", one that accurately reflects the direction in which America is moving. Whether or not such leadership can emerge from the Republican Party, however, remains to be seen.

It is Charles Darwin who said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” If the Republican Party is to survive, it must listen to Darwin's words. Its current choice is to evolve or die. 

Mitt Romney makes his concession speech. Photograph: Getty Images

Lola Adesioye is a British-born, New York-based political commentator, writer and broadcaster of Nigerian heritage. She tweets @lolaadesioye.

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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era