Whither The GOP?

Remember when John Edwards ran for President and talked incessantly about “two Americas”? He was talking about divisions between rich and poor, but we now know that–whatever the contribution of economic status to culture war–the real differences that divide us are psychological and tribal.

And the question of the day concerns the tribe that has gone off the rails.

A recent Gallup poll found that sixty-two percent of U.S. adults believe the country needs  a third party. That is an increase from 57% in September. Support for a third party has grown significantly; it was 60% in 2013 and 2015 and 61% in 2017. Furthermore, Republicans’ current level of support for a third party is the highest Gallup has measured for either party–virtually all of the increase is due to the increase among Republican respondents.

Given recent reports of substantial Republican defections in the wake of the Capitol insurrection, that sounds promising–until you dig into the Gallup report.

The survey asked Republicans and Republican-leaning independents what direction they would like to see the party move in the future. A 40% plurality want the party to become more conservative, while 34% want it to stay the same and 24% to become more moderate.

Republican identifiers were twice as likely to say the party should become more conservative than moderate (44% to 21%). And we know that the current use of the term “conservative” is vastly different from its former definition.

Media is currently obsessed with the status and prospects of the GOP. An article in Politico offers advice for a “Reaganesque” revamp.

The thesis is that there are only three possible paths: the one the party is currently on (Splitsville ahead), a full-throated swing to crazy-ville (doubling down on xenophobia and protectionism and recruiting more Marjorie Taylor Greenes), and “imitating Ronald Reagan.” According to the author, Reagan masked the party’s racism with his focus on tax cuts:

The lesson is that while politics based on racism can always get you some votes, it doesn’t quite get you enough. To form a new, stable political coalition, Republicans need a strategy that speaks to people’s hopes and self-interest more than to their fears. Tax cut politics appealed across the board—including to the racists, but not only to them.

To repeat a Reagan-like transformation of the party, Republicans have to offer an alternative vision that is appealing enough to voters to serve as a replacement for the dwindling politics of tax cuts.

The article suggests what some of those policies might be (I’m dubious, but hey…). The problem is, embracing any of them would require dramatically distancing the GOP from Trump–something the polling suggests is highly unlikely. (It’s not just Gallup: a Politico poll fielded after January 6th found Trump’s overall favorability rating at an “abysmal” 34%–but 81% of Republican respondents gave him positive marks.)

Michael Gerson–former speechwriter for George W. Bush– has offered a far more honest–and much less hopeful–analysis.

Gerson acknowledged that the Impeachment vote was a “historic collapse of moral and political leadership. And it was no less tragic for being expected.” And he points to the tribal truth underlying that collapse: Republicans’ widespread belief that the “White, Christian America of its imagination is on the verge of destruction, and that it must be preserved by any means necessary.”

We saw the Indiana iteration of that belief last Thursday. Today’s GOP is the White  grievance party–nothing more.

As Gerson recognizes, this isn’t political philosophy. It’s a warped religious belief. “There can be no compromise in a culture war. There can be no splitting of differences at Armageddon.”

Can the GOP really have a productive debate between people who believe in democracy and those who have lost patience for it? Between those who view politics as a method to secure rough justice in a fallen world, and those who view it as a holy crusade against scheming infidels? Between those who try to serve conservative political ideals and those who engage (in Sasse’s immortal words) in “the weird worship of one dude”?

The greatest need in our politics is a conservatism that opposes authoritarianism. The greatest question: Can such a movement emerge within the framework of the Republican Party?

Gerson says he’s skeptical. Me too.


  1. In recent years our presidential electoral ballots have listed Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and Green Party candidates as well as Write-Ins. That adds up to FOUR (or five) parties by my old fashioned math; Republicans appear to want a FIFTH political party of Trumpism.

    Would election results require the majority of votes or 51% of votes to elect a president. This brings to mind an explanation from someone on this blog as to how and why Trump became the Republican nominee. With so many nominee wannabes to vote for the RNC gave Trump 20% of the vote which was the majority; totally ignoring the 80% who voted against Trump.

    Those who claim we need a Third Party overlook the fact that election after election after election shows that the vast majority of voters cast their votes for one or the other of the same two parties consistently at all levels of our government.

    “Republican identifiers were twice as likely to say the party should become more conservative than moderate (44% to 21%). And we know that the current use of the term “conservative” is vastly different from its former definition.”

    We have all watched for almost FIVE YEARS as the GOP garnered millions of votes for Trump based on racism and bigotry. They would be more honest if they admitted “conservatism” is not the issue; they need to split into the known racial divide of Trumpism.

  2. Professor and Mr. Girson-it is achievable, however, the players must have stamina, courage and the ability to respectfully play in the same sand box

  3. My concern about a three party solution is that the sane vote gets divided between the two sane(r) groups and the crazies stand a better chance of winning again. Lets just hope for a complete defeat of the current R but I have been hoping for that for years.

  4. I wonder how the authors of those articles would account for all the POC who’ve converted to the GOP over the past four years. In Muncie, we have a mainly black congregation with a black pastor who is primarily all Republican. They split from a large congregation of mainly white Republicans from all over the county.

    What’s even more amazing are the local AA “leaders” have been plucked from the Republican arenas to lead the so-called reformation of Muncie’s long history of racism. The powers to be even promoted a black Republican councilman to Deputy Mayor. The gentleman switched from a life-long Democrat to a Republican when he ran for City Council.

    These so-called black leaders took the Black Live Matters activism and policy recommendations and immediately undermined them because of their perceived standing in the community. Even though our police department has around seven civil rights lawsuits against them for abusing their power, these new leaders took Defund the Police off the table when meeting with the appointees from the PD.

    Considering what’s happening at the federal and state level, someone please explain this to me because it truly boggles my mind. I even witness female teachers of color supporting the Republican Party locally. #SMDH

  5. If you split the sane vote, the insane will always win. It’s bad enough that the Dems have the likes of Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema threatening the usefulness of a Senate majority. They both need to look at the popularity of the policies they might be threatening and be willing to stand up and defend voting in favor of policies that will help their constituents.

  6. One thing not mentioned often enough is the failure of the DNC to improve messaging that blows up the fallacy of tax cut politics and “trickle down” economics. We’ve often wondered why people vote against their own best interests on this blog and in many other areas. It is often because of the political/intellectual vacuum left by the Democrats abandoning certain demographics.

    John Dean got it right when he instituted the 50 state campaign philosophy. Tom Perez didn’t follow up and became more of a money manager than a political party leader. Messaging and platform under Perez was DREADFUL in all corners. Why else would heretofore Democratic constituents stop voting or turn to the idiocy of Republicans?

    We don’t need any more political parties – as JoAnn pointed out. We need two FUNCTIONING parties that work across ALL constituencies for the sake of governance, not power. But when we allowed money from corporations and banks to operate our politics, that notion of governance for the people went out the window.

    The tax cut philosophy of Reaganomics is about power, not governance. It’s about greed, not citizens’ rights. It’s about unfettered capitalism, not preserving democracy.

    Marx was right.

  7. Third party history supports the view of those who refer to the crazies and the sane, and that is my worry, as well. That so many republicans want the party to move further into conservatism, which might just be code for bigotry, is scary. And, historically, as well, 3rd party efforts have been all too easy to manipulate. Without Nader running we may never have seen a GWB presidency, and the interminable wars he and Cheney started.
    Meanwhile Reaganism is a big part of what got us to this awful point, in the first place. “Trickle down” was known, with the Reagan admin., to be BS, some have openly admitted it, but it was a great excuse for moving still more wealth up the economic scale. Reaganism was also based on bigotry, and elitism. His very first campaign stop was a dog-whistle, in and of itself, a site of a former lynching, as I recall.
    Personal ramblings:
    Call me crazy, if you like, but I want to see what political movement, if any, occurs after the March 4th non-inauguration, when, I presume (admittedly) that still more of the lunatics will see Master Trump for the fake he always has been. However, those who see some light after that will be very small in number, I expect.
    Then there will, apparently be SDNY, and their new prosecutor, familiar with the RICO system!

  8. There’s a chance that the free market of democracy is addressing the political situation now. We just need to make sure that the Republican roadblocks to that solution are removed as permanently as possible. That, I believe is the goal of HR1.

    As long as maximum participation in free elections is encouraged then Republicans can have their fair share of voters among the declining center of the country and let the successful cities on the coasts determine who governs federally.

  9. To be clear The Trumpet won the 2016 GOP Primary, with 44.9% of the votes, which netted him 1,441 delegates more than the 1,237 delegates required to guarantee his nomination. Ted Cruz was a distant second with 25.1% of those votes. Rubio had 11.3% of the votes, he lost his home state Fl to The Trumpet.

    The Reactionary Right Wing, Evangelicals and the Rambo Wannabes were captured by Rush Limbaugh and FOX News. These people were just waiting for someone in the GOP who spoke their language without resorting to dog whistles and code words. Enter The Trumpet not from the stage but down the escalator.

    The so-called “moderate” Republicans of today are a far cry from IKE or Jerry Ford. IKE or Jerry Ford could not win a GOP Primary today.

    The big money donors will continue to fund the GOP in reliably Red States and look for DINO’s in the Blue States. The Trumpet voters will not be invited into the country clubs, they will be hyped up enough to despise and even hate an AOC and vote for a Q Candidate.

  10. The Republican Party is on the cusp of a return to the Whigdom from which it arose in 1854, which is quite a long run for a party and eclipsed only by the oldest political party in the world, the Democratic Party. I don’t see a third party in the future of that post-Whig party; I rather see that party’s keeping its name and after a brief interlude with Trumpism finally understand that there is a dynamic afoot that promises its end, to wit: a younger and finally interested majority of voters who reject the Reaganesque notion that “big” government and taxes are bad and that (though unstated but necessarily the alternative of such a proposition) that Koch and Mercer- libertarian inspired weak government and low taxes are good.

    If the Republican Party is to survive in more than name only it will have to return to at least some of the principles and vision of that party I once knew, a party whose administrations actually embraced some of FDR’s New Deal, who taxed the rich and corporate class fairly, and under whose (until Reagan) administrations the Dow and median wages rose in tandem. I expect a bruising battle within that party between realists and monied libertarians as it involves intself in its last means of winning elections, i. e., voter suppression, which is not going to work.

    Except for a dwindling number of state houses (see contra: Georgia and next up, Texas), I foresee Democratic administrations for the next twenty years or so a la the FDR-Truman era (unless Republicans disavow their libertarian wing and socialist tax giveaways and sponsor programs designed to end wage and wealth inequality). Time will tell.

  11. Third parties are the grand elixir, the panacea for our democracy, but usually they are snake oil. However, there are times when they serve a purpose, like the Labor Party in Britain growing to become the second part at the expense of the Liberal Party in the early part of the 20th Century and the Republicans replacing the Whigs in the 19th Century. Now might be another of those times.

    When we look at polls, we have to remember that we are not looking at equal halves. While the Democrats represent a little under a third of the electorate, the Republicans represent only a quarter. The rest are “independents”.

    The number of “independents” has risen over time for a number of reasons. Among the “independents” are some hard core “middle” folks who like the idea of being courted and want to be convinced. There are also people who were disappointed when some segment of the party (both parties) dominated and being part of the losing faction became “independent”. (It also happens after a party loses in a big way – people don’t want to be associated with a “loser”.) Those still may vote for their former parties rather consistently. Finally (no this isn’t a comprehensive list), there are those, especially among the young, who grew up in the negative milieu of “Democrats are Commies” and “Republicans are Racists”.

    I see few possible futures. First, former Republicans, and the few sensible ones left, may try to create the new “center right/conservative” party. This depends upon enough of them having totally given up on the QOTP. I really can’t see this happening, at least at first. Once it does, it will take more than a single election cycle to regain some power.

    Second, they may cling to the idea of reclaiming “their party” and try to take it back. There is little chance that their staying power would outlast the QOTP adherents, which would be required for a straight recapture, a take over by the other side getting tired and quitting.

    A third variation would work, but will be a hard pill to swallow. They would have to convince enough of their followers to destroy the QOTP at the ballot box, big time. This might take a couple of election cycles. They would have to accept that a Democratic majority might have free-reign for two, four, or even six years. (Of course, they could take heart that Democrats aren’t an “organized political party.) Only then could they pick up the pieces.

    There is another source of resistance to this. I will call it the “rural/WASP” palsy. Growing up in Detroit in the ‘50s and ‘60s, we would joke about the “Polish Palsy”, the concept that ethnic Catholic (mostly Pole and Irish) voters were so reliably Democratic that they must encounter a massive palsy if they reached for the Republican lever (lever voting machine days). Some people just cannot vote for anyone with a (D) by their name, no matter how much they dislike the Republican candidate. At least some of them would have to be convinced to achieve the kind of massive defeat I am talking about.

    It is then that I see a new/old Republican party trying to reach out to their former members and to try to attract new supporters.

    Mitch – about March 4 – history has shown us that when apocalyptically centered religious leaders miss the deadline for the apocalypse, their adherents cling more strongly and make excuses. Just saying – I don’t expect Trump’s fans to ever see him for what he is.

    Monotonous – I agree that today’s “moderates” are a far cry from Ike and Ford, but even more so, Ford represented the “right wing” of the party who wanted to impeach William O. Douglas for having opinions he didn’t like. He represented Kent County and adjacent counties, home of DeVos and Michigan’s crazies. He was a bit better in the White House.

  12. Per a report on CNN Newsroom this morning; Trump is planning to announce his full control over the Republican party, today I believe. There had been no response from the Republican party at the time of this announcement.

    There is also the report from some of his organized and connected domestic terrorist groups that they will hold the rightful inauguration of Donald Trump as the 19th President of the United States on March 4th.

    Sigh; sometimes I get so tired!

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