Recent electoral circumstances remind me of my home state of California’s transition from purple state to overwhelming blue state. Many of the same strategic mistakes the CA Republican Party made and continue to do are being committed by the GOP nationally potentially with catastrophic future political results.
The GOP has gerrymandered districts and time in its favor before the next national election next November. Nevertheless, surveys have the Democrats’ current lead at an average 13 percentage points for the U.S. House of Representatives, within the range of the double digit win that experts have projected is needed for Democratic control.
(For a solid, clear view of the public’s response to the Trump and Republican Party program so far this era, see the addendum.)
WHERE ARE WE GOING?
The angles are innumerable and unceasingly discussed. I could go on for a small book. But, assuming an audience generally familiar with politics, I shall limit explanations.
The current state of GOP politics reminds me of the many mistakes and downright stubbornness that have led to the CA GOP declining into an almost negligible political force over the past generation.
Twenty-three years ago, Republicans won 5 of 8 CA statewide offices, 51 percent of the State Assembly, 43 percent of the State Senate, and 49 percent of the state Congressional House delegation.
Today, Republicans have none of the statewide offices, 32 percent of the State Assembly, 33 percent of the State Senate, and 26 percent of the state Congressional House seats. With the Democrats having at least a 2/3 majority in both legislative chambers, Republicans cannot influence any legislative actions on their own; in particular, taxes.
Sure the national profile does not parallel that of CA. Nevertheless, even a generation ago when CA already was considered left of center, Republicans were competitively winning in the state. Since then, those political practice that have brought their decline have become blatant and extreme. (In fairness, some state GOP leaders and organizations have worked smart and got elected some respectable and inclusive lawmakers.)
In the Trump era, this appears to have come to a head in turning off key voters to the party and inspiring those voters’ greater political engagement, especially successive younger generations, women, and minorities.
Digging in Heels (Immovable Object) Against Cultural Change (Unstoppable Force)
As demographic changes came about and as social attitudes evolved, Republican activists and conservatives have doubled down on their ideals and policy positions, believing that this would ensure their eventual success.
Even granting a state party charter to the gay rights Log Cabin Republicans only came to pass in 2015, long after most of the state have embraced LGBT issues and despite how central the LGBT community and their supporters are to CA.
As the Republican National Committee in its 2013 Growth & Opportunity Project acknowledged, “for many younger voters” with LGBT family and friends, ”these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be.” Whether it is LGBT issues, or environmental issues, or women’s issues, people will always attain greater understanding and choose different directions as society hums along. That is a key essence of culture. It changes…continually.
A key modern struggle with culture is over it changing faster than ever and folks being not comfortable with the increasing speed, to say the least. It the end, what many conservatives discarded in their fanaticism for purity and the way things were, was diversity of thought that reflects and includes the many facets of today’s America, and with which is necessary to build a governing coalition in a great vibrant nation.
Despite the fervent nostalgic rhetoric touting the U.S. Constitution, many do not acknowledge the genius of this founding document in protecting freedom through deterrence of the majority from dominating over freedom (tyranny). That freedom means the right to make personal choices as opposed to the right to live your vision of the world and impose it on others. Americans will vigorously and vehemently stand up and fight, as they should and have this year, for freedom.
The solution to policy differences is to stand for what one believes but with respect for differing points of view. And with listening to the concerns and issues of fellow Americans and seeking constructive results based on basic principles.
Newton’s Third Law…or Excesses
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Political pressure is an essential piston of democracy. Yet doubling down and steamrolling forward on an unpopular policy not only can isolate you but it can also ignite the other side and facilitate their goals. As before, you cannot expect to get everything you want (as many in the GOP coalition talk themselves into believing). To win it all. The harder you push, the bigger the blowback could be if there is opposition.
The public previously tolerated the rejection of climate change science. With Trump’s withdrawal from participation in anti-climate change measures, scores of states, municipalities, corporations, and activists have taken the lead on the issue; while in the past, this would have been the purview of the federal government.
Further examples, the Trump Administration has laid the groundwork for diminishing rules for organic eggs and placing tip pooling under the control of employers. Would these proposals fire up political activities by “granola” persons and restaurant service workers who may have been otherwise disillusioned by the Democratic Party?
Especially now, there is an inclination to take down or take a swipe at every practice and policy, major or esoteric, with which there is discomfort regardless of whether it is worthwhile for the public or the GOP. In fact, Trump is spearheading the building and motivating of the burgeoning Democratic coalition through Americans negatively impacted and/or inflamed by his policies and beliefs.
Good leaders implement their visions and guiding principles so that they produce desired results. When a Harvard poll (2016) finds that 51 percent of 18 – 29 year olds do not support capitalism (42 percent do), it is a core failure whose burden falls upon its advocates, especially its most ardent advocates.
In the end, the GOP base will not and is not capable of letting go when appropriate.
The Business Model (Yes, It’s All About Business)
The GOP used to emphasize judicious and measured responses, appealing to traditionalists and conservatives who preferred slow change and disliked disruption.
Today, clearly the business model is simply about appearances and the short-term benefits for politicians and political operatives.
- Lie and spin to defend the brand – the GOP base will stand by the party if it believes, or at least are reassured.
- Always use wedge issues.
- If the major parties are working together and getting along, there is less market for paid campaigns.
- The base is only motivated by wedge issues. Fewer of them will vote and they will provide less funding without being motivated.
- Create them if necessary.
- Promise supporters everything and then implement it – despite pushing or breaking the boundaries of good policy as well as good future political considerations.
- Do not offend any of the base by saying “no” or by taking a principled stand – it is all about votes and money since we are winning and want to keep power and make much more money.
- Community outreach does not make money, paid media does.
- Education and elites are complicating everything, raising expectations, frustrating our voters, and diminishing our prospects for status and wealth – keep things simple even if it is not enough for good policy and good practices.
- Winning today is everything – forget the long term (fewer jobs and profits otherwise).
- Bully to enforce the model above.
Frankly, a respectable major American political party can stand for principle, be in the minority, and still significantly influence the nation for the better as well as provide a reasonable number of jobs for its operatives.
However, in the end, the leaders and passionate adherents will decide for themselves what they want their party to be. I am a nominal Republican today and urge everyone to stand for what you believe is best and good, and work together with all Americans to better our nation and our world.
Insight From Recent Elections and Surveys
What Virginia Tells Us
Virginia’s recent statewide election offers the clearest view of the electorate’s thinking because of its regular timing, its breadth, and the state’s ideological position between the major parties.
As has been widely reported, Democratic counties and cities went more blue than in the past. Republican counties went more red. There was increased and strong interest and participation by both sides. The Republican nominee earned almost 16 percent more votes than the nominee in 2013. But, the Democratic nominee earned 31 percent more than his predecessor in 2013, sealing an 8.9 percentage point win. Better turnout of voters favorable to them led to the Democrats leaping from 34 percent of the seats in the Virginia House of Delegates to 49 percent (with one seat still undecided).
Nevertheless, we cannot be sure if the GOP has maximized their share or if the Democrats simply did a better job of getting their voters to the polls as Virginia does not register voters by political party.
Key Sign Posts
- Electorate demographic make-up same as 2016 presidential despite non-presidential elections normally providing a slight bump to the GOP.
- Non-Caucasians comprised 33 percent of the electorate instead of the 28 percent in 2013 – about an 18 percent larger share.
- Among women, the Democratic nominee gained 29 percent on top of Hillary Clinton’s share last year, and
- Among those under 45 years old, he attained a 19 percent increase.
Despite being an aberration, the Alabama special U.S. Senate election this month had a couple significant insights as well.
- Non-Caucasians were 34 percent of the electorate despite the U.S. Census finding they were about 31 percent of the state – a 10 percent over-performance that really mattered.
- The controversial GOP nominee won 80 percent of evangelicals which was 73 percent of his total. The most loyal GOP partner but only 49 percent of Alabama’s and 25.4 percent of the U.S.’ population, per the Pew Research Center.
Who Does Americans Currently Want to Control the U.S. House of Representatives?
From the Quinnipiac University Poll (the only one that got the Virginia gubernatorial correct).
- Independents: D+10 (vs. R+6 for Trump 2016)
- Caucasian Women: D+11 (vs. R+12 for Trump 2016)
- Caucasian/College: D+13 (vs. R+10 for Trump 2016)
- Caucasian/No College: R+19 (vs. R+35 for Trump 2016)
- Caucasian Men: R+21 (vs. R+32 for Trump 2016)