After Mitt Romney lost his Presidential election bid in 2012, the Republican National Committee released an election “autopsy report” which detailed what the party needed to do in order to remain competitive in the future. The report essentially found that the Republican Party had become too insulated and was increasingly becoming the party of a minority of voters in the United States. The report made several key recommendations—passing immigration reform in order to appeal to Latino voters, being more responsive to minority interests in general, and making moves to avoid being seen as only the party of the rich. The report was released in 2013.
Two years later, Donald Trump was on the campaign trail, metaphorically setting the RNC’s autopsy report on fire. He called Mexicans rapists and criminals, he claimed he would financially support those who punched protesters at his rallies, and he pushed lies about dramatic increases in inner city crime. The old prevailing thought about the GOP was that it was the party of fiscal conservatism, law and order, free trade, and family values.
Trump’s dominance of the Republican Party has exposed the supposed pillars of conservatism as a farce. All of the traditional conservative principles can be bent, changed, or ignored at will, with no political repercussions from party officials or conservative voters.
By the 2016 election, Republicans had largely given appealing to the Black community. The Daily Beast reported that Black Republican leaders were “miffed, and say the RNC hasn’t delivered on its commitment to invest in outreach to black voters.” Not so regarding Latino voters as Republicans have attempted to appeal to them in recent years. As late as 2013, the RNC was still talking about immigration reform as a way to increase the party base. Now, Trump has essentially destroyed any hope of that possibility. His explosive rhetoric and harsh penalties imposed on immigrant communities have made it so that young Latinos are far less likely to view the Republican Party in a positive light. A 2017 poll from Latino Victory Project, Latino Decisions and America’s Voice found that 70% of US Latinos “believe the Republican Party doesn’t care about or is hostile toward Latinos.”
So who is left in the Republican base? An aging, white, evangelical, pro-gun, anti-abortion party is fueled by racial resentment.
There have been plenty of stories that document that Trump’s base will not abandon him based on healthcare or economic issues. Tariffs have hit Trump country especially hard, and coal miners have slowly figured out that the jobs are not coming back. The attempted repeal of the Affordable Care Act would have essentially thrown millions of Trump voters off their current insurance plans. Despite all of that, ‘white, no college’ remains Trumps’ strongest demographic, and “Rural Trump voters continue to stand by Trump,” is as common a news headline as ever.
The GOP has done a good job of controlling the prevailing narrative about Trump voters and promoting the idea of false equivalence between his actions and those of Democrats. We spend months debating the merits of economic anxiety, political correctness, and civility as supposed things that influence Trump voters. The media entertains these superficial excuses for white grievance politics in part because the media is dominated by white people who have friends and family who are Trump voters, and condemning Trump and his racism is condemning them as individuals (Hence the outrage over Clinton’s “deplorables” comment).
The Republican Party’s long-term outlook is poor. Their base is aging, and the youngest generations are majority non-white. If conditions remain unchanged, the GOP could become a regional party, completely dominant in white rural areas but increasingly noncompetitive in cities and suburbs, with less influence in state and national level politics. Their most effective strategy for preventing this outcome is changing the rules, namely, preventing an increasing number of non-whites from being able to vote. We have seen the beginning of this strategy in voter suppression tactics such as voter ID laws and stripping voting rights from felons (which disproportionately affects minorities, who face tougher police scrutiny).
Here are several strategies we can expect from future Republicans.
- Increasing voter suppression efforts by creating and enforcing harsher penalties. What if the penalty for coming to the polls without a voter ID was not just that you got turned away? What if it was a misdemeanor to come to a polling station without a voter ID? Criminalization of this process could further limit minority turnout.
- Expect increased gerrymandering efforts, especially in states with growing non-white populations.
- Explicit anti-immigration stances on non-white immigrants, with harsher penalties and enforcement. At the same time, future Republicans may follow in Trump’s footsteps by encouraging immigration from country’s that are predominately white.
- Increased police and even military presence in Black neighborhoods. There could be calls for the National Guard to be sent to Chicago, for instance. Republicans would say this is an effort to reduce crime, while local populations would see it as a military and political occupation.
- Refusing to vote for any liberal Supreme Court Justice in any capacity. What is to stop Republicans from saying they will simply refuse to vote for any liberal justice…ever? The GOP has already been rewarded from stealing a Supreme Court seat from President Obama, and so far, there has been no political downside to this norm breaking.
- The Republican Party is going to shift towards open authoritarianism, with many more Trump types being elected. That means less regard for laws, norms, and institutions, and more open racial demagoguery. Roy Moore likely would have legislated in this fashion, and Maine Governor Paul LePage’s rhetoric does not sound much different from Trump. Expect this to get much worse.
- Continued efforts to limit abortion access. There is the very real possibility that Trump’s next Supreme Court Justice could overturn Roe v. Wade, potentially allowing the states to write their own laws on abortion. Republicans view abortion through the evangelical lens of controlling women’s bodies and limiting their autonomy. Many prominent anti-choice groups, and the activists who support them, have connections to the kind of white nationalists whose messaging increasingly resonates with the Republican base in the United States.
- There have been several extreme proposals from conservatives and libertarians about breaking California into several states. A proposal to do just that is on the ballot in California in the upcoming November elections. This early version of the strategy is not expected to succeed this fall, but it could become a future political goal for conservatives. The goal is to divide the biggest blue state into the country into smaller states where conservatives would have better electoral odds. An example might be if conservatives created “Inland California,” or “Northern New York,” or perhaps a “Northwest Florida.” The Florida Panhandle is whiter and more conservative than the rest of the state, and has a population of nearly 1.4 million. That makes it more populous than states like Maine, Rhode Island, Montana, Alaska, and Vermont. Breaking up bigger, diverse states into two states, one of which has a strong white majority, would instantly give Republicans two Senators each and change the Electoral College math.
It would politically and culturally insulate a white GOP minority from the coming non-white majority. This is perhaps on the extreme end of the realm of possibilities, but just five years ago having Trump as President would have been unthinkable. The window of what is possible can move relatively quickly in politics, especially when strong political forces are moving to extreme stances.
It is important to realize that the Republican Party has won the popular vote only once since 1988.
That means the party has lost six of the last seven popular vote counts in Presidential elections. The only exception is 2004, when the country rallied behind the incumbent government following the 9/11 attacks. If that event had not happened, it is likely that Republicans would not have a single popular vote win in a Presidential election in nearly 20 years. In the same period, Republicans have chosen about half of the Supreme Court justices and maintained control of the House for a majority of the time. The Electoral College is an undemocratic institution that favors Republicans, but gerrymandering has been the force behind Republican control of the House of Representatives. It is why Republicans can win a minority of the votes but retain a majority of the House seats. Republicans have been rewarded for gerrymandering and political norm breaking. They have gained Supreme Court seats and the opportunity to put more justices on federal benches across the country.
So far, there is been virtually no downside to the GOP’s bad behavior. And what does a bully do when there are no consequences for their actions? They take more.
This means that we will likely continue to see Republicans move into an authoritarian, undemocratic space as wielding power becomes more important than our nation. Their support of this president has already made them complicit in the moral decay of our democratic principles. Will we stand up and say no more? November will be telling.