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Republicans are thus running up an escalator that is moving down. Resisting amnesty will slow the pace somewhat, but the longer-term trend is clear: to win, the party will have to win over more minority voters. Quite how to do so remains a mystery. The greater number of high-profile GOP leaders (Jindal, Texas senator Ted Cruz, Rubio, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and New Mexico's promising Susanna Martinez, to name a few) drawn from ethnic minorities is a start, but no more than that. 

To be sure, the Taft-sized Chris Christie — in the derogatory sense of the word — secured re-election as Republican governor of strongly Democratic New Jersey with some 60 per cent of the vote in November, a tally boosted by his success in attracting the support of over 50 per cent of Hispanic and (it's sad that this counts as an achievement) around 20 per cent of African-American voters.

This was a feat that owed as much to his refreshingly blunt persona as to his attempt to steer his state in a more frugal direction. For while there is still a very distinctively American constituency for smaller government — check out the "don't tread on me" flags brandished at any Tea Party rally — it is unlikely to be enough to return the White House to Republican management. In part, this reflects the fact that the country's finances have deteriorated to a point that leaves little room to make a good case for Reagan-style tax cuts. The number is distorted by a sluggish economy, but federal tax receipts as a percentage of GDP (approaching 17 per cent) are lower than when the Gipper left office. Meanwhile publicly held federal debt as a percentage of GDP has risen from 26 per cent in 1980 to around 73 per cent today, nearly half of which is now held by intrinsically more jittery international investors. 

Total federal debt (roughly $17 trillion) is calculated before factoring in the contingent liabilities arising out of underfunded entitlement programmes such as Social Security and Medicare that, according to Republican deficit hawks such as Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn or former vice-presidential candidate Congressman Paul Ryan, could amount to four, five or more times that figure. To be fair, those estimates are hotly disputed, but still . . .

On the other side of the ledger, that the sequester (a crude budget-bludgeoning device triggered by the current impasse in Washington) has so far not proved anything like as damaging as the Obama administration originally predicted should not be allowed to conceal the fact that any attempts to take America back to fiscal respectability on the back of expenditure cuts alone would involve taking a chainsaw to entitlements. According to a Bloomberg News poll last February, most Americans accept (or claim to accept) that Medicare and Social Security must be overhauled, but they view tax increases as part of the solution.

That's anathema to many on the Right, an attitude enshrined in, and enforced through, the "Taxpayer Protection Pledge" designed by Americans for Tax Reform, a pressure group formed by the influential libertarian-leaning Republican activist Grover Norquist. The pledge is essentially an undertaking to reject any net increases in tax, and it has been signed by the overwhelming majority of Republicans in the Senate and House. Sadly, even if the pledge has sometimes been interpreted more sinuously than its stern wording might suggest, it no longer is in tune with economic reality, but the political reality is that declining to sign it (let alone reneging on it) is likely to cause trouble for any Republican at primary time. That will change, probably at about the time that seniors (56 per cent of the over-65s voted for Romney in 2012) realise that their benefits are in jeopardy, but that moment has not arrived. 

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December 28th, 2013
12:12 AM
The Republican Party is a big tent and the party that ended slavery and Democrat sponsored segregation in the south. To suggest that the Republicans can not appeal to minorities is absurd and Christie will show us how.

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