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Can GOP survive its 'minority problem'?

Polls show that the GOP continues to be 'the party of old, white men' – and that could be decisive in the 2012 presidential election. Demographics suggest that the party must change, and soon.

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These changes have left "the GOP … on the wrong side of history, demographically speaking," adds Allan Lichtman, a presidential historian at American University in Washington.

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Despite being a self-professed numbers guy, Romney has not raced to court the minority vote. As the Obama campaign comes out with "Women for Obama," "¡Obama!" and, yes, "Hipsters for Obama" buttons, the Republican Party has instead been buttonholed as not just having a "black problem," or a "Hispanic problem," or a "gay problem." The GOP, says Mr. O'Connell, has a minority problem.

Not that the GOP isn't trying to expand its appeal.

Its national convention in Tampa, Fla., featured a string of speeches by so-called rising stars, including Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Indian-American Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Cuban-American Senate nominee Ted Cruz, Haitian-American mayor and congressional nominee Mia Love, and Mexican-American New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.

But the convention floor was notably short on minority delegates – as made obvious by the Democratic convention's technicolored rainbow of an audience a week later. It's a portrait even conservative commentators have poked fun at, as when New York Times columnist David Brooks described the winter Olympics as "the second most Caucasian institution on earth, after the GOP."

And that is at the core of why Romney and the GOP aren't doing more to court minority voters for the November election. In short, say political watchers, they can't.

"They have a substantive problem," says Professor Lichtman. "To the extent they reach out substantively to minorities, they risk losing their base."

Since its founding in the 1850s, the Republican Party has relied on a base of white Protestant voters, says Lichtman. And though that served it well though the 19th and much of the 20th century, when Protestants composed the majority of voters, "That white Protestant majority has since disappeared," he writes in an Aug. 16 Newsweek article. "Fewer than 40 percent of all Americans today are white and Protestant." (Incidentally, this is also the first time in the history of the US that neither major party ticket includes a white Protestant nominee.)

In contrast, the Democratic Party has historically engaged minorities, starting with the New Deal coalition of Roman Catholics, Jews, blacks, Southern whites, lower-income voters, and labor unions, which helped the Democratic Party win seven out of nine presidential races between the 1930s and '60s.

Overwhelmingly, the Republicans – as well as their standard-bearer, Romney – have held fast to the policies that have grown out of that past. As a result, many minority voters from Hispanics to Muslims have felt antagonized by the party – as have women, to a lesser extent. For example:

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