While obviously eyeing the 2020 presidential election, a few current trends might have the GOP thinking about long-term viability as a party. Anti-Trump sentiment, Republican infighting, and increased disaffection of young members could jeopardize the party well into the next decade. Further, the party is responding with all the wrong mechanisms, doubling down on ideas that appeal to a narrow slice of the electorate and betting on candidates that might leave the party fighting a two-front war: one with Democrats and one with itself.
Trickle-down Anti-Republican Sentiment
The GOP’s future worries start at the top of the current ticket. There is no doubt the president remains deeply unpopular. The data-crunching web site, 538, maintains an aggregate “poll of polls” that shows the president, even with polls conducted by conservative-friendly outlets like Rasmussen, cannot rise above an approval rating in the low forties, and never falls below a disapproval rating in the low-to-mid fifties. Though Democrats focused on issues like health care and the economy in the 2010 mid-term election, anti-Trump sentiment was a very large factor in the resulting Blue Wave that resulted in the GOP losing control of the House of Representatives, six state legislatures, and seven governorships in one night.
If this trend holds, control of the Senate is in as much jeopardy for the Republicans in 2020 as the White House. Alarming names like Chris Kobach in Kansas, Corey Lewandowski in New Hampshire, and a return of accused child molester Roy Moore in Alabama have the party establishment begging and pleading for more mainstream candidates who can win both a primary and general election. None of the aforementioned candidates currently fit that description.
The GOP is aware its influence with the wider American public is waning as the growing population becomes more centered on urban areas. It also knows that in 2008, 2012, and 2016, it lost the popular vote by 4.5, 5.0, and 2.7 million votes, respectively. Add to that the copious obstruction of justice findings of the Mueller investigation to which the GOP is turning a blind eye, the lingering spectre of ties to Russian election interference, and legacy of division inspired by its standard bearer, and you have an electorate growing more and more disaffected with the GOP as a whole.
Yet this has not resulted in a change of strategy for the GOP. Instead voters see a doubling down on Trumpism. During a kickoff event for his re-election campaign, Trump all but ignored positive outcomes such as a strong economy and continued job creation. Instead he focused on fear mongering, hatred and division. He is clearly playing to a narrow core of supporters who comprise around 30 percent of the electorate, but that is what worked the last time. All the rest of the party can do is wince and hope the next election will hurt a little less.
Heading for the Exit
The GOP has been suffering an identity crisis for a long time. (It has been chronicled beautifully here.) The party’s “Trumpification” – the spread of some of America’s worst tendencies regarding racism and nativist sentiment – has only thrust the GOP’s crisis into sharper relief. The result has been an exodus of GOP stalwarts. In the last year we have seen George Will leave the party (though not conservatism itself), a continued falling away of once "future stars" such as Paul Ryan, Nikki Haley, and William Hurd, and just this past week saw the splintering of Log Cabin Republicans. This leaves the party with a bench subscribed to the racism and division of the current administration. The party is rightly worried this will lead to more of the same losses in America’s suburbs, the likes of which they are still feeling after the Blue Wave of the 2018 mid-term election.
This is severely impacting the party’s future. The GOP clings to calling climate change a hoax, tolerates Evangelical intolerance for gay marriage, and ratchets up anti-immigrant rhetoric in the face of an ever-diversifying American populace. In the wake of the recent acts of domestic terrorism in El Paso and Dayton, calls for stricter gun control are growing in the GOP but appear to be falling on deaf ears. Young would-be Republican voters are questioning if they want to support a party more interested in 1984 than 2024.
In response, the GOP should be working to find updated and reformed policies that are both in-line with their principles and necessary to the needs of the day. Instead, the party is trying to simply suppress the opposition. The party was recently exposed trying to implement a highly strategic gerrymandering scheme, to be used in conjunction with the 2020 census, to mitigate the influence of minorities and other Democratic-leaning voters. This was on top of a highly exposed cased of voter fraud committed by Republican operatives in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional district.
This could result in two very bad outcomes for them. First, if they are thrown completely out of power in 2020, there will be a new wave of infighting and finger pointing that will keep the party’s division front and center while leaving the Democrats free to pursue their agenda. Second, the party might split. More mainstream Republicans, aligned with the changing times though still committed to the original principles of conservatism, will wither find a way to kick out the extremist faction, or finally find the spine to let them have the GOP moniker and move on to create their own party. This will keep conservatives in the wilderness for a long time to come but it is the best bet they have to let the extremist faction, which is about 30 percent of the electorate, die off. It would at least have a chance to re-embrace the young supporters it risks losing. This scenario, however, seems very unlikely.
The GOP appears in trouble on many fronts. Worse, the party appears unable to deal with any of them. The party of Lincoln is wrestling for what is left of its soul as it deals with the Frankenstein it created. Those who might have otherwise continued the fight might simply tap out and admit what is left is not worth fighting for.