Is the GOP Becoming the Party of AARP?

Republicans are worried their party is getting too old

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Recently, we explored commentary on whether old people are bankrupting America. Now conservatives are worrying that old people are turning the GOP into the party of AARP. How did the Republican Party become so aged? And what does it mean for the GOP and the seniors it increasingly represents? Here's what conservatives are saying:

  • Generational Demographics Benefit Dems  The American Conservative's Daniel Larison reads the polls. "On average, Millennials' underlying social and political views put them well to the left of their elders," he writes. "There have been small shifts in other age groups toward the Republicans, but by far it is the alienation of voters aged 65-82 that has been most damaging to the Democrats' political strength ... Republicans remain behind among all voters younger than 65."
  • 'Geriatrics Against Obama'  The New York Times' Sam Tanenhaus asks Christopher Buckley, "Where are the youngsters? The [1960] Sharon Statement launched the Young Americans for Freedom college kids, for the most part. The new/old submission seems more like Geriatrics Against Obama."
  • Bad News For Small-Gov't Republicans  The New York Times' Ross Douthat predicts that both parties will have to court seniors by defending Social Security and Medicare entitlements, a significant compromise for conservatives seeking smaller federal government. "This means that while the energy of activists may be pushing the Republicans to the right on size-of-government issues, the concerns of their central constituency could end up pulling them inexorably leftward on entitlements."
  • Short-Term Victory, Long-Term Defeat  The National Review's Reihan Salam shakes his head. "There is a real danger that the GOP will become 'the party of AARP,'" he writes. "This is the main reason why I've argued that a premature Republican comeback might actually be a bad thing for conservatives -- if the party wins a war of inches by outpromising Democrats on Medicare, it'll prove a Pyrrhic victory."

Liberals, perhaps somewhat predictably, suggest this could mean the decline of the GOP:

  • Why This Dooms The GOP  Mother Jones's Kevin Drum predicts disaster. "The 20-something generation has been trending Democratic so strongly for the past decade that Republicans have no choice anymore but to cater to seniors." But courting to that middle-aged and elderly base means further alienating young voters, minorities and the Northeast. "[N]o political party can survive this kind of vicious cycle in the long run ... The white South and the elderly just aren't enough to sustain a national party."
Republicans could realize that 1) the future of conservatism depends upon restraining entitlement spending, 2) They'll never restrain entitlement spending without Democratic cover, and 3) Democrats won't give them cover unless they give some substantive ground. That would entail opening themselves up to a deal covering the uninsured in return for really tough spending controls, an even bigger Cadillac tax, comparative effectiveness research, and other delivery reforms. It would also mean seeking out a bipartisan deal to trim Social Security while raising taxes a bit -- the kind of deal Obama is all but begging for.

Of course this would require the party to abandon its theological opposition to tax hikes, whereas that theology has only deepened its hold on the party. So instead we're stuck in an equilibrium that's not terribly liberal but also headed inexorably toward much larger government.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.