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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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• Romney has rejected the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for some young illegal immigrants; and at a GOP debate in January, Romney said the solution to illegal immigration was "self-deportation." Meanwhile, Democrats have strongly pushed the DREAM Act, and Obama incorporated many of its features into a directive that allows young immigrants brought here as children to apply for a two-year deportation deferral.

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• Efforts by Republican legislators to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, which is the nation's top abortion provider but also provides preventive care to low-income women, have alienated some women voters. Perhaps more damaging have been comments by conservative commentators and lawmakers. Rush Limbaugh called a Georgetown law student a "slut" for advocating broader health-insurance coverage of contraception, and Rep. Todd Aiken (R) of Missouri said women's bodies could prevent a pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape." Democrats had the law student, Sandra Fluke, speak at their convention.

• Romney has rejected same-sex marriage and civil unions, he has pledged to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court (which defines a marriage as between a man and a woman), and backs a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Obama is the first sitting president to openly endorse same-sex marriage and was instrumental in the repeal of the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

• Republicans have also made many Muslim-Americans feel "radioactive." Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) of Minnesota sent letters to government agencies, asking them to investigate Muslim organizations, individuals, and government employees – something Muslims called a "witch hunt." Romney met with retired Lt. Gen. William Boykin, who asserts that "[Islam] should not be protected under the First Amendment," and the GOP platform has an anti-sharia plank that aims to ban foreign law – a threat many view as baseless. The Democrats trumpeted in the party's platform: "We are the party of inclusion and respect differences of perspective and belief."

Romney, in particular, is in a delicate position. Once known as a moderate governor of a very blue state, he has slid to the right to satisfy his base, struggling to maintain his footing as a middle-of-the-road candidate, necessary to remain competitive in a national election.

"The Republican Party is in a funny place these days," adds Mr. Teixeira. "Someone like Romney, who has moderate impulses, is prevented from doing anything serious to moderate his image. Anything you might do on social issues is exactly the kind of thing that would annoy the Republican base."

Lichtman puts it more bluntly: "Can you imagine how the tea party would react if Romney came out in favor of the DREAM Act or endorsed Obamacare?"

But anything else won't be enough, he says. "Just putting minorities out [at conventions] doesn't get you the minority vote," he says. "Minorities who vote are much shrewder than that. They're looking at what you stand for."

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