As anyone who frequents Interstate 90 understands, Janesville sits somewhere between a Wisconsin small town with a closed automobile plant and a big city with the industrial milieu of Milwaukee. This description includes Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the congressman from Janesville whose mild manners and frequently-mentioned widow’s peak add to the old-timey, middle- class feel of the place.
But Ryan is now a national figure, and his “aw shucks” attitude will not help his political future. In one of his first interviews since last week’s election, he told Jessica Arp at Madison’s CBS affiliate, WISC, “The surprise was some of the turnout, some of the turnout especially in urban areas … gave President Obama the big margin to win this race.”
It is hard to understand how Ryan could be surprised by a strong urban turnout. The Republican Party engaged in a campaign that repeatedly ostracized minorities and low-income Americans who benefit from welfare. It is difficult to see how Ryan finds it shocking that voters alienated by the Republican platform turned out at the polls to vote Democrat.
It would be easy enough to dismiss Ryan’s comment as a gaffe that does not warrant a response from the political press. But his comment proves just how much he has left to learn if he wants to continue to be a leader of the Republican Party.
The word “urban” has been used euphemistically to describe areas with heavy minority populations and high rates of poverty for some time, and Ryan’s use of the term implies he is willing to accept that these people will never vote for him.
But our country is changing, and cities are the main venues for that change. This change is not only demographic but cultural as well — cities are becoming more diverse and multicultural than they were in decades past. President Barack Obama has built a coalition that recognizes this change and embraces it.
But Ryan’s party’s consistent decision to concede urban areas to Democrats because they refuse to embrace change will spell political doom for Republican politicians in the future. That is not good for the country.
Clearly, it backfired in this election. Just look at some of the demographic makeup of Obama’s winning coalition. Yes, he did attract the large majority of Latino, African-American and Asian-American voters. He also was competitive with white voters —many of whom live in both rural and urban areas.
Ryan’s comment is, put simply, a prime example of the biggest problem the Republican Party faces: a notable dearth of ideas that give minorities an alternative to voting for Democrats. Rather than chalking the Obama victory up to a strong urban turnout, Ryan should consider the fact that his campaign never gave urban voters a reason to vote Republican.
The need for change in the Republican Party is nothing new; this board has repeated it in the fallout of this election along with other commentators from around the nation. But as Wisconsinites living in a state with a history of urban and rural harmony, we are disappointed with Ryan’s apparent desire to attribute his ticket’s loss to a population in a faraway land where he does not live.