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O'Reilly: Republicans should resist the segmentation craze

Republicans should think twice before treading too deeply

Republicans should think twice before treading too deeply into hyphen land. Maybe what Americans thirst to hear is that we're all in this together. Credit: Tribune Media Services / Nancy Ohanian

The first thing Rudy Giuliani did when he became mayor in 1994 was get rid of all the constituent offices his predecessor put in place.

Gone were the African-American and Irish-American affairs offices. Ditto the Caribbean-American, European-American, Latino-American and Asian-American ones. The Lesbian and Gay liaison got eighty-sixed, too.

David Dinkins' New York may have been a "gorgeous mosaic" of multicolored tiles, but not Giuliani's. The new administration had just one sign on the door. If you wanted help from the city, you went to the constituent affairs office, in an old-fashioned E pluribus unum kind of way.

The melting of those brass door placards into a single pot was an edifying illustration of how Republicans think. The GOP has rarely played in tribal politics, as the Democrats do, and that suited the Party well for 163 years.

But all that could be changing.

There's a panic going on within Republican ranks that demographic trends in this country spell doom for its candidates going forward. A report released Monday by the Republican National Committee as part of its Growth and Opportunity Project provides fodder for the doomsday contingent: 88 percent of those who voted in the 1980 presidential election were white, we learn. In 2012, that percentage was down to 72 percent. By 2050, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, white people will constitute just 47 percent of the American population.

The "browning of America," as it's been called, demands a long-term positioning change for the GOP. Or else, the thinking goes, it's all over for the party of Lincoln.

That may or may not be true. But the fear raises questions: Are mankind's principles universal, or are Hispanics and South Asians sewn from some cloth other than what made previous generations of Americans? Are Bangladeshis, Panamanians and Uzbeks coming to our shores with dreams different from those of the English, German, French and Poles when they arrived?

Probably not.

But the last two presidential election cycles have Republicans spooked, and the party is looking for elixirs. It wants some of the special sauce the Democrats have been using to win over voters in formerly reliable red states like Colorado and Virginia. How else can you explain the announcement this week that Republicans are planning to create something called "The Growth and Opportunity Inclusion Council," with African-Americans, Asian-Pacific-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Native-Americans and "others" specifically represented?

Just the name "Inclusion Council" makes this Republican wince. It makes me think of those segregating signs on Mayor Dinkins' doors.

Perhaps the political fracturing of America for political marketing is inevitable. And maybe highlighting people's differences to build coalitions is a more effective way to win elections.

But it's important for Republicans to remember that the two greatest pluralities in presidential history were won not through media segmentation, but through national advertising campaigns where everyone -- black, white and in between -- heard the same message. Ronald Reagan won 49 states in 1984 with that strategy, the same number of states that Richard Nixon won in 1972.

Republicans should think twice before treading too deeply into hyphen land. Maybe what Americans thirst to hear is that we're all in this together.

William F. B. O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant.