The Magazine

The (Finally) Emerging Republican Majority

From the October 27, 2003 issue: GOP officials don't like to talk about it, but they have become the dominant party.

Oct 27, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 07 • By FRED BARNES
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

In the recall, Republican inroads among Latinos were extraordinary. "One cardinal principle of Democratic party politics in California . . . has been that Latinos, like African-Americans, will remain loyal Democrats regardless of what the party does," Joel Kotkin, a senior fellow at Pepperdine University and respected California political analyst, wrote for the New Republic website. That principle crumbled in the recall. Democrats attacked Schwarzenegger for backing Proposition 187, which barred illegal immigrants from getting public services but was later overturned, and for opposing driver's licenses for illegals. Nonetheless, he got 31 percent of the Latino vote, the best showing for a Republican candidate in California in a decade. Blacks voted 18 percent for Schwarzenegger.

Democrats have two further problems, one with image, the other with culture. With Schwarzenegger and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani as the second and third most visible Republicans in the country, it's difficult for Democrats to pigeonhole Republicans as conservative extremists. Schwarzenegger "bridges the cultural gap" between moderate and conservative Republicans, says Republican representative Tom Davis of Virginia, an elections expert. Luntz, the Republican pollster, says the emergence of Schwarzenegger means "you can be cool and be a Republican." By the way, when Schwarzenegger appeared with Bush in California last week, he got a bigger ovation than the president.

Davis says the divide on cultural issues--abortion, gays, guns, etc.--is a diminishing problem for Republicans. Schwarzenegger's prominence makes it okay for voters who are moderate-to-liberal on cultural issues but conservative on taxes and spending to be Republican. These voters require "permission to stay Republican," Davis argues. And Schwarzenegger "gives them a comfort level. But Democrats don't have anyone to make cultural conservatives feel comfortable. It's the Democrats' worst nightmare."

Nothing is guaranteed in politics. The political future is never a straight-line projection of the present. And the ascendant party always hits bumps in the road. Democrats were dominant from 1932 to 1994, but they lost major elections in 1938, 1946, and 1952. Now, Republicans are stronger than at any time in at least a half-century and probably since the 1920s. Realignment has already happened, and there's no reason to pretend otherwise.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.