"It's like we think we'll get by with pars on the last two holes when we really need birdies," Graham told me. He referred to the 2006 mid-term election, where he sees a real danger of Republicans losing control of both houses in Congress for the first time since the 1992 elections. Such foreboding reflects Graham's fear that demographic changes in America will extend beyond this year's elections and return the Republican Party to minority status.
Graham's remedy to avert short-term and long-term disaster stresses Republicans returning to fiscal integrity by seriously cutting spending -- a goal to which his GOP colleagues give lip service. He also advocates policies on entitlements, the environment and immigration that he feels are necessary for the party's health but find little GOP support on Capitol Hill and only mixed backing at the White House.
It is not merely lack of enthusiasm for Graham's agenda. Since talking to the senator, I have tested his theories with a dozen prominent Republicans. All feel the tide has turned for them in the last month. Each of them says the American voter will stick with the Republicans after taking a good look at Democrats, a mind-set that often is a precursor of defeat. To follow Graham's metaphor, perhaps they are not reading the real leader board of American politics.
The Republican Party has followed the wishes of the Religious Right and corporate America so closely in recent years that moving where Graham seems to suggest is nearly impossible in the short term, which may be why he has been met with such hostility on these ideas. I think there is an essential rightness to the argument here, that in order to remain competitive in the future the Republican Party must become more Burkian and be a Party primarily of fiscal restraint. As to the environment, that is something that the GOP should be getting behind outside of any possible electoral gains just because something has to be done about fundamental issues like global warming in which strong action must be taken immediately. I don't know if there is an electoral gain for Republicans to start taking those issues seriously, but there is a social necessity to do something that Republicans should back just on its merits alone. But they have tied themselves to closely to large corporations that they cannot bring themselves to help do what must be done and instead deny that global warming is a problem, or even exist and do so at great expense to America and the world. As much as I personally dislike Graham, he understands something fundamental that most of the Republicans simply do not get. America is changing and in the long term the Republicans will be left behind if they don't change their course.
The rising Hispanic-American population not only has transformed California into a Democratic state; freshman Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar looks like the new political face of Colorado, and Arizona is no longer safe for Kyl conservatives.
These demographic changes suggest an end to the gradual political realignment that began in the late '60s and produced consistent electoral success for Republicans. As a South Carolinian, Graham must worry about his party suffering the fate of Democrats in the 1920s. Democrats elected only 20 House members and won no presidential electoral votes outside southern and border states in 1920.
Accordingly, Graham is one conservative Republican who supports President Bush on immigration. He and Bush advisers agree that the immigration hard line may alienate the Hispanic vote with disastrous consequences. But Graham has little backing at the White House for a softened party line on global warming and entitlement reform that includes greater contributions by upper-income Americans.
The xenophobic approach that the Republican Party has taken to immigration will indeed alienate hispanic voters. Census data suggest that hispanics will be the major force in American politics in the coming years as that demographic sees dramatic population growth.
I have argued that hispanics are a fundamentally liberal group by and large, indicated by the rise of the political left throughout Latin America, and Obrador's apparent near win recently in Mexico in spite of some disasterous strategic mistakes by the Obrador campaign that evaporated his lead (not participating in the first debate comes to mind). Recently some inroads have been made by Republicans to cut off hispanic support for Democrats, but those inroads will be lost by the Party that has essentially declared war on immigrants from the South.
Republicans are not the only ones misreading the political landscape however, Democrats are equally oblivious. One popular argument has been that Democrats need a Southern strategy to bite into the "values vote" that dominates the South. But population gains accross the South will come largely from increasing hispanic and black populations which we know to vote heavily Democratic, so the political culture of Georgia or Tennessee or Alabama will be fundamentally different than it is today. Furthermore the region making real gains in population is the Southwest and West where climbs in the hispanic population will be very dramatic. Democrats should be concerned with returning Texas to competitiveness as well as making Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada strong Democrat territory. The West Wing explored this theme showing that a Democrat could win even today before population shifts by sweeping the Southwest. Of course West Wing is fictional, but Santos didn't even have to win California, and the States mentioned above are definately trending Democratic, if Texas becomes competitive once more on the backs of an energized progressive hispanic population the American demographic will look inhospitable for the current Republican Party in 20 years.
For this reason the Democrats should make fighting the xenophobic immigration plans of the Republican Party a top priority, for it enhances this western strategy and sends the clear signal that the Republicans have nothing to offer hispanic voters, but Democrats do.