The 2012 Presidential Election was full of surprises. A race that every political pundit or news corporation, barring Nate Silver, thought was going to be a toss-up was decided by 11 p.m — without Florida’s votes even being counted.

Perhaps none were more surprised than leaders in the Republican Party. Independent conservative groups spent more than $700 million on the election, only to see their candidate lose. Karl Rove couldn’t even bring himself to believe it at first.

But, was it really that unbelievable? Mitt Romney’s campaign, along with the extreme right wing of the Republican Party, managed to alienate women, minorities, young people and low-income people all in the same election cycle. From Romney’s comments about the 47 percent and “self-deportation” of undocumented immigrants to Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin and Richard Murdock’s comments on rape, this election saw some of the most outrageous political rhetoric to date.

The fact of the matter is that the demographics of this nation are changing. President Barack Obama only won 39 percent of white voters, and yet still managed to win the election. During the last few elections, Democrats have established a strong base of minority support, and this group is only growing.

In 2008, Asian Americans made up 2 percent of the population; in just four years they’ve grown to 3 percent, and 47 percent voted for Obama. In 2008, Hispanics made up 15 percent of the electorate — in 2012 they contributed 17 percent, with 60 percent favoring Obama. As this election reaffirmed, there simply aren’t enough white men to propel a candidate to an electoral victory nowadays.

The changing demographics of the country will continue to put Republicans at an electoral disadvantage unless they broaden their party’s appeal. Today, minorities make up 30 percent of the U.S. population, but by 2050 they are estimated to exceed 50 percent.

Not only are the numbers of minorities in the United States growing, but people are becoming more moderate on social issues. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, compared to older generations, Millenials are less likely to identify with any particular religious affiliation. Twenty-six percent of Millenials identified as not having a religious affiliation, the highest among any of the previous generations. In 1990, 86 percent of the population identified as Christian; in 2008, it decreased to 76 percent.

This then translates into their social and political views as well. As the study reiterated, young people are more likely to be accepting of homosexuality and believe in evolution as a valid explanation for human life.

While young people still make up a modest part of the population as compared to the Baby Boomer generation, these numbers show a significant shift in mindset. They reiterate that society in general, and especially those born today, are less likely to adhere to strict religious values and more likely to be open and flexible in their positions on social issues. The ongoing shift away from religion toward science means that many of the GOP’s positions on issues such as gay marriage, abortion or climate change are becoming outdated.

An op-ed by a member of the College Republicans in the Wall Street Journal claimed the GOP is viewed as the “party of the rich” and “social bigots” by the young voting population. She went on to state, “As a member of this all-important demographic, I know that neither I, nor (almost) anybody else coming of age today supports the Republican social agenda. That’s the way the country is moving — so just deal with it. Modernize and prioritize.”

And perhaps that’s the lesson here. The Republican Party has to modernize. And thankfully so. As a liberal — albeit a moderate liberal — I’m overjoyed that the Republican Party is doing some soul searching. Don’t get me wrong — election 2012 was thoroughly entertaining. Crazy rhetoric from the extreme right, regurgitated by Republicans in public office, was a political goldmine for liberals. It was hard not to capitalize on Todd Akin’s comments about rape or U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann’s (R-Minn.) comments about Muslims.

But, that’s exactly what the problem is. This nation faces some serious issues in almost every area — whether that’s rebuilding our workforce, educating our youth for a globally competitive job market or fixing a broken economic and political system. These issues require us to have serious conversations and debates. And that can’t happen if one of the two political parties in our nation is seen as being hijacked by nonsensical extremists.

Republicans gave Democrats an easy pass in November. The election turned into a conversation about the 47 percent, Big Bird and rape. Obama didn’t have to propose innovative policy solutions or even answer serious questions about his vision for the country moving forward. Instead, he was simply able to turn the conversation to some newly crazy statement by Romney and other Republican public officials.

That might be how elections are won. But it’s not how problems are solved. If we want to move forward, we need strong credible arguments from both sides of the political spectrum. And the sooner the Republican Party distances itself from crazy rhetoric, the sooner everyone will be forced to have serious policy debates.

Harsha Nahata can be reached at hnahata@umich.edu.

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