By GARY SASSE After inciting an unprecedented attack on the nation's Capitol, the Trump presidency is ending as a tragedy with the Republican Party at the brink of a civil war. The timing could not be worse because the 2022 campaign may be a pivotal
After inciting an unprecedented attack on the nation’s Capitol, the Trump presidency is ending as a tragedy with the Republican Party at the brink of a civil war. The timing could not be worse because the 2022 campaign may be a pivotal survival test for a party engaged in a fierce internecine struggle.
As Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) said, when President Trump leaves office the Republican Party will face a choice of either dedicating itself to perpetuating our best American institutions, or becoming a party of conspiracy theories, cable news fantasies, and the ruin that comes with them.
The outcome of this GOP struggle could have real consequences for the nation’s well-being. American governance can benefit from a constructive right-of-center Republican Party to counter the influence of extremism, as well as to create a political environment conducive to problem-solving.
Throughout our history, defeated political parties have evolved and reinvented themselves. If the GOP fails to do so, The Bulwark’s John V. Last believes, “The Republican Party will be, for the foreseeable future, a minority party. The GOP will not win a popular vote plurality any time soon. And this permanent minority status is basically unheard of in American politics.”
Last also sees the constitutional designs of the Senate and Electoral College keeping the Republican Party relevant in sections of the country. Furthermore, the overreach by the progressive left could benefit Republicans in some states. As Professor Yascha Mounk of Johns Hopkins observed, “Even in some of the most left-leaning states, the appetite for progressivism is limited.”
However, these potential advantages will be outweighed by demographic realities. While the anticipated “blue electoral wave” failed to materialize, Harvard Professor Thomas E. Patterson, the author of “Is the Republican Party Destroying Itself,” makes the case that the GOP’s future may not be bright. He points out that white voters comprise nine out of 10 GOP voters, but are a declining share of the population. For example, in 1992 whites encompassed 87 percent of voters compared to 67 percent today.
Patterson also concludes that “Without the votes of white evangelical Protestants,” the GOP “would already be a second-rate party.” In the future, the ability of white evangelicals to bolster the GOP vote may decline. Today, evangelicals comprise one-sixth of the population compared to one-fourth about 25 years ago.
While Republicans made small gains with minorities in some states, two-thirds of Latinos voted for Mr. Biden while Asian-Americans favored Democrats in the 2020 election by a two-to-one margin.
Reihan Salam, president of the conservative Manhattan Institute, summarized the challenge facing Republicans this way: “Given that white middle-aged, evangelical, native-born high school grads aren’t exactly a booming demographic, you might conclude that the GOP is doomed to permanent minority status.”
If it hopes to become a governing party, Republicans must close an economic-educational gap. “Data from The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showed that in 2010, 40% of self-identified Republicans were college-educated white Americans. By 2016, that share had fallen to 33%. Meantime, the share of white Republicans without a college degree rose from 50% to 59%.”
William H. Frey of the Brookings Institute found “Trump’s loss to Joe Biden was due mostly to voters in large metropolitan suburbs, especially in battleground states.” Biden did well in the suburbs of Atlanta, Dallas and Phoenix with a high percentage of college-educated voters who previously tended to vote Republican.
A report in the New York Times showed similar results in the metro areas of Colorado, Omaha, Nebraska, and Lexington-Fayette County, Kentucky. The authors of this report, Jed Kolko and Toni Monkovic, concluded: “Education was the key dividing line.”
How will the GOP evolve after President Trump departs the White House? Will Republican elected officials continue to fear potential Trump backed primaries, or will leaders emerge to address the issues Americans are most concerned about – the pandemic, affordable health care, good jobs, income security, education and national security?
However, before there can be a successful realignment, Republicans must restore the public’s confidence in their ability to govern. Over the past four years, too many Republican office-holders enabled Trump by placing his interests above the nation’s. Perhaps nothing typifies this more than how handling the pandemic was politicized and the Trump-instigated attack on the Capitol.
The takeover of the Republican Party by Trumpism did not happen overnight. In the 1980s and 1990s, Pat Buchanan sounded the alarm about globalization taking American jobs, and more recently, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin advocated working-class populism.
In rebuilding the Republican Party, new leaders must recognize that Trump was elected because many middle- and low-income families saw their economic opportunities, community institutions and social status declining. Globalization off-shored their jobs, illegal immigration aroused resentment and their values were ridiculed by the corporate, academic and media elites.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration was largely unsuccessful in responding to these concerns. American Compass, a conservative think tank, noted that the Trump presidency “lacked both overarching vision and an integrated policy agenda. For most statements, appointments, and policy actions there existed equal and opposite ones.”
The GOP will not become a governing party without a “common good capitalist” governing vision and strategy supported by a multiracial, middle-class and pro-worker coalition. As Salam opined, many Hispanics, Blacks and Asians “distrust the bleak narrative of woke liberalism. They believe in hard work and an enabling state that fosters job growth and rewards strivers.”
A new generation of Republican leaders should take New York Times columnist David Brooks’ advice “to stop catering to the corporate class and start focusing on the shop owner, the plumber and salaried worker. It needs to emphasize the dignity of work and honor those who are not trying to make millions, not looking for handouts, but just want to build middle-class lives in a stable order.”
Gary Sasse is the founding director of the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University.