Alvin Bessent is a former member of the Newsday editorial board.
The Republican National Convention looks like quite a party. It has all the trappings: a boisterous crowd, funny hats and balloons set to drop sometime tonight when guest of honor Mitt Romney officially accepts the GOP nomination for president.
But it just may be a political wake.
That's not to say the Romney-Paul Ryan ticket is doomed. Most polls have the pair running neck-and-neck with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. But as the nation is becoming more diverse and more tolerant, the national Republican Party is becoming less diverse and less tolerant. Unless it changes course, that's the road to obsolescence.
Despite a splash of color on display in Tampa this week -- for instance, Mia Love, the black and Mormon mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, who is a candidate for Congress; Gov. Luis Fortuno of Puerto Rico; and Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, whose parents emigrated from India -- the GOP has become a party largely of white people. And the party is playing almost exclusively to an audience that fits the profile. Eighty-seven percent of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters this year are white; 52 percent are men, according to the Pew Research Center.
In 2008, Sen. John McCain, that year's Republican presidential candidate, won 55 percent of the white vote but still lost the election. Obama won 95 percent of the black vote, 67 percent of the Latino vote and 61 percent of the Asian-American vote, according to Zoltan Hajnal and Taeku Lee, authors of "Why Americans Don't Join the Party: Race, Immigration and the Failure of Political Parties to Engage the Electorate."
And that was before the racially charged and largely inaccurate digs about welfare and food stamps Republicans have leveled at Obama in this campaign. Or their persistent insinuations that he's not a real, born-in-the-USA American, even after he showed the world his birth certificate. Or before the GOP launched efforts in numerous states to suppress the Democratic and minority vote by requiring photo identification.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last week actually showed Romney getting zero black support. Black voters have overwhelmingly favored Democrats for decades, but Republicans seem determined to alienate practically every other segment of the population as well.
The party's hard line on immigration is repelling many Hispanics. Its uncompromising opposition to same-sex marriage and nostalgia for the recently abandoned "don't ask, don't tell" policy of official bigotry in the military won't draw many gay and lesbian voters. And a lot of women won't feel welcome in a party fighting to restrict contraceptive coverage and defund Planned Parenthood, and that has a no-exceptions opposition to abortion plank in its platform. Most polls put Obama about 10 percentage points ahead of Romney with women.
Of course female voters care about more than reproductive rights, and minorities' concerns extend beyond race. But if the party is going to be competitive at the presidential level in the next 10 to 20 years, it will have to do better among those groups, especially Asians and Hispanics, who have no long history of allegiance to either party.
An electorate increasingly polarized by race and gender isn't good for the country. It will make it even harder to reach the kind of pragmatic compromises needed to solve our problems.
But rather than looking to become a bigger tent by embracing racial diversity and accommodating a diversity of views, many in the Republican party have branded compromise evil and those who do it sellouts.
If it wants a future as a competitive national party, the GOP will have to open its arms to some of the people it now greets with clenched fists.
Alvin Bessent is a member of the Newsday editorial board.