The recent GOP debate in Arizona should be a great cause for concern for Republicans. While the candidates and the party hope they are one step closer to having a nominee, their chances of winning the White House in November seem to be fading with every passing day. In a political cycle that started off with so much enthusiasm and hopes among Republicans that their party was perfectly poised to defeat an incumbent president way below a 50% approval rating, presiding over a painfully slow economic recovery, and where voters are clearly not satisfied with the way things are going, things sure seemed to have taken a dour turn for the GOP.
What changed? For one thing, the economy has taken a turn for the better. Unemployment is going down, businesses are hiring, and the Dow Jones is at an historic high. And while the economy is not out of the woods yet, Republicans must be careful not to be seen as wishing for bad economic news, or as "talking" down the economy. As such, the positive economic news takes a bite out of the narrative of presumed "frontrunner" Mitt Romney, who has focused on being the pragmatic business man who knows how to turn the economy around. But changes in the economy are not in any of the candidates' control.
What is in their control however, is how they portray themselves in these debates and in campaign events around the country. It is in these forums that they have done the most long-term damage to one another and to the party brand as a whole. There was not a clearer example than last night during the Arizona debate.
In one short two-hour span of time, the GOP candidates managed to succinctly show all America how they are alienating two of the most important demographics and voters in the country today: Latinos and women.
Between Mitt Romney's embrace of the harsh Arizona anti-immigrant law - SB1070 - as a model for the nation, using Pete Wilson (of CA Prop 187 fame) and Chris Kobach (author of SB 1070) as advisors to his campaign, and Newt Gingrich's early salvo blaming Arizona's prison populations and Emergency Room resource depletion on undocumented immigrants coming over the Southern Border, and his doubling down on building not just one wall, but a double wall on the border, the Republican candidates showed their continued tin-ear or more realistically, a true disregard for Latino voters in this country.
Add to that, the candidates' combined remarks leading up to the debate that underscored their stances on issues important to women such as wanting to deny equal access to preventative health services for women including contraception, Santorum's not believing that women should serve in combat, and Romney's support of "Personhood" amendments in the states. What do we get?
We start to get a very clear picture of a party with tunnel-vision. Some Republicans would say "duh," they need to speak this way to win their base. Others are not so sure and are growing increasingly antsy that their candidates are alienating key voters by the day. The polls bear out this anxiety. Romney is tanking among independents, and majorities of independent women do not agree with where the GOP is on contraception and health services (or lack thereof) for women. This is not a good place to be with women when they represent 53% of the American electorate.
And Latinos? The GOP may as well kiss any chance of getting the magic number of 40% among Latinos good-bye. In a recent poll by Univision, 76% of Latino voters said they either did not think the Republican Party cared for them, or thought it was downright hostile to them.
So as the primary process continues and brings Republicans closer to having a nominee, what voters will be left for them to fight for in a general election? If they continue on their strident path of trying to out-extreme-right-wing each other, none. That is no way to win the White House.