WASHINGTON – It’s time for the Republican party to modernize or face the threat of extinction, says former Maryland lieutenant governor and Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele.
Speaking with WTOP Monday morning, Steele warned that the re-election of President Barack Obama spoke to a broader problem within his party.
“Party elders are still executing a southern strategy,” he said. “They predominantly looked at the party through a southern lens where we have a great base and a great deal of strength, but the country has changed.”
Even in states like North Carolina and Florida, demographics are quickly shifting away from a white majority as Hispanics and other so-called minority groups experience a population boom.
And as America gradually becomes more diverse, so is its electorate. Nonwhites made up 28 percent of voters this year, compared with 20 percent in 2000, reports The Associated Press. The trend worked to the advantage of Obama two elections in a row, and has Republicans scrambling to change the face of the party.
“You’ve seen a demographic shift over the last 10 or so years that the party has just ignored,” Steele said. “It just bit them on the rear end.”
In last week’s election, Obama captured 80 percent of nonwhite voters, just as he did in 2008. Republican challenger Mitt Romney won 59 percent of non-Hispanic whites.
Moving forward, Republicans need to reassess their strategy and find a way to become more inclusive, Steele said.
“Get out of your comfort zone and go into communities where people who don’t look and sound like you live and … talk to them about empowerment and ownership and the very core principles of our party,” he said.
That kind of inclusive strategy was used during the 2010 midterm elections and proved to be effective in helping Republicans regain control on the House, Steele said.
But changing the party’s approach could take some time. Steele likens it to the 12-step program, which requires a commitment to prolonged change. In other words, it is a lifestyle change and not a quick fix.
“Those voices in the party that are serious about this have to step forward, otherwise guess what? In five or six years, we’re irrelevant,” he said.
The issue of party direction could become more heated as current RNC Chairman Reince Priebus considers a second run. An announcement is expected sometime this week, reports POLITICO, and Steele thinks this could be a good opportunity for the party to ask the tough questions.
“I’m sure the party will evaluate him and his record just as they evaluated my record,” he said. “If winning gets you fired and losing keeps you hired, I guess it’s a new standard.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.Follow