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The two titans of American politics, President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, locked horns this week in the first televised debate of the election season.
Romney managed to show that he was still a viable candidate in spite of a barrage of recent criticism and increasingly negative polls. Obama spoke with his usual oratorical mastery and projected an air of deep thought and calm. But to many, the president appeared rather tired and lacking in his usual pep. Being president and campaigning at the same time is exhausting.
The first debate alleviated some of the gloom previously felt by Republicans and slightly lifted Romneys poll standing. Yet neither candidate generated much emotion, unlike the waves of hysterical adulation for Obama in 2008. Instead of being the Expected One, Obama turned out to be another typical politician mouthing platitudes and making promises that are not kept.
Even so, the underlying arithmetic of the election was still against the Republicans known as the Grand Old Party, or GOP.
White, middle-aged men are Romneys key supporters, along with Bible Belt Republicans, farmers and ardent supporters of Israel. Say Republican and up pops the image of an angry, overweight, 60-something male golfer, shaking his putter in fury at the socialist Muslim president.
Problem is, there are not enough angry overweight white men and religious fundamentalists to give Romney a decisive victory. Evangelical Protestant fundamentalists voted 78% for George Bush in 2004 and 74% for John McCain in 2008.
But many of these born-again Christians, who make up 45% of Republican voters, are leery of Romneys Mormon faith which is regarded as weird and heretical by mainstream Christians. Many may simply not vote for Romney.
American women, particularly younger ones, are totally turned off by the wooden Romney and his deer-slaughtering vice presidential running mate, Paul Ryan. Polls show women 40 to 60 against Romney a potential kiss of death in the race.
I suspect that Romney reminds many American women of all the things they didnt like about their fathers. Obama reminds them of the kind of fast-talking cool cat that their fathers warned them against. The GOPs jihad against abortion, public health care, and benefits for poor blacks has further angered many women.
Polls show 93% of black Americans will vote for Obama provided they vote at all. Obama mania has cooled among blacks. Latinos, the most important new voter group, back Obama by 68% to 26% for Romney.
Independents will prove vital in key battleground states that determine the election: Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Arizona. Many of these better-educated voters are turned off by Romneys warlike bluster and by Obamas continuation of Bush policies.
America has rapidly turned brown and yellow. The days of white supremacy are over. There are 2 million Muslims living in the great melting pot of America. East Asians top all the educational surveys. Latinos have the fastest growing families. For the first time, whites have become a minority in California, the 11th biggest economy on earth.
Unless there is an unexpected revival, the Republican Party seems destined to become a fringe party of the far right and religious fundamentalists. GOP leaders loudly advocate war against all sorts of enemies, assassinations around the globe, torture and indefinite jailing of suspected anti-Americans, and the endless growth of military spending without raising taxes. As the party shrinks, it will likely grow more extreme.
I have been a card-carrying Republican all my life. A signed picture of President Dwight Eisenhower hangs over my desk. Im a veteran of the regular US army.
But todays Republican party is no longer my Republican party. Back in the day, the GOP was run by East Coast elite of well-educated, sophisticated internationalists who exercised Americas great power with restraint.
Alas, they have been replaced by rural politicians from the deep south and west with no knowledge of the outside world and no sense of history or culture. Americas closet fascist neocons write the GOPs foreign policies.