Trump’s upset win, predicated on a Republican Party dedicated to a shrinking demographic base after Republican elites made hollow gestures at making the party more inclusive after losing in 2012, led to some optimistic predictions that we were on the precipice of a major realignment in which the Reagan coalition finally cracked up. The problem with these predictions is that there was not actually any reason to think that the Republican coalition was about to become electorally nonviable at the national level. Overrepresented in all of the Constitution’s poorly designed major institutions and further aided by Republican judicial and political elites disenfranchising minority voters, Republicans don’t need to be a majority coalition or offer a popular agenda to control a lot of veto points going forward.
As Eric Levitz observes, nothing has changed in this respect since 2017:
Republican lawmakers regularly defend the right of America’s rural minority to lord it over the majority because “we are a republic, not a democracy.”
These ahistorical defenses of the Electoral College — and the “alt-lite” adaptations of the great-replacement conspiracy theory — have helped fill the void where an affirmative conservative agenda once stood. The financial crisis badly wounded the right’s “In robber barons we trust” economic philosophy. And the combination of Trump’s proud indifference to small government pieties, plus the GOP’s failure to repeal Obamacare, and the heavy electoral price Republicans paid for even trying, have forced Ayn Rand’s apostles to play dead. If the GOP regains full control of government in 2021, it’s anyone’s guess what they’d do with it. The party’s thought leaders have much to say about Twitter etiquette and the intricate policy challenges raised by Drag Queen Story Hour but precious little to offer on trifling matters like how to restore shared prosperity or stop Americans’ life expectancy from continuing to decline.
In sum: The Republican Party is unpopular and is poised to grow steadily more so. It has no viable governing vision. And its only discernible plan for addressing those deficiencies is to wage legal and ideological war on popular democracy.
Given that this is my view of the contemporary GOP, I was eager to be persuaded by Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg’s Tuesday New York Times column, “The Republican Party Is Doomed.”
But the primary defect in Greenberg’s argument is his neglect of the myriad structural advantages the GOP will retain even if it does become a permanent minority party. In his triumphalist account of the 2018 midterms, Greenberg dances around the reality that a historic blue wave did not prevent the GOP from expanding its majority in the Senate. This was partially the product of an especially unfavorable map for Democrats (far more Democratic Senate incumbents were on the ballot last year than Republican ones). But it also reflected two long-term trends in American politics that have accelerated in recent years: the rise of urban-rural polarization and the decline of ticket splitting.
The electorate is increasingly divided along lines of density. White voters’ propensity to support Democrats steadily decreases the farther they live from city centers. Meanwhile, politics has become increasingly nationalized, such that the percentage of Republican voters who are willing to support a Democratic Senate candidate down-ballot has shrunk. This has grave implications for Democrats, since all those sparsely populated, heavily white states in Middle America are massively overrepresented in the upper chamber. At present, the average state is about six points more Republican than the nation as a whole. A historically favorable midterm environment spared some of the Democrats’ red-state incumbents last year. But the next time Joe Manchin and Jon Tester face voters while a Democratic president is in power, they’re unlikely to be so fortunate (as the opposition party almost always does better in midterm elections). Even with their votes, Democrats will still need a minor miracle to assemble a majority in the upper chamber in 2020. And if Republicans hold the Senate, they’ll have an excellent shot at retaining it for the ensuing decade, especially if Trump loses. And as long as the GOP has the upper chamber, it can block Democratic presidents from appointing Supreme Court justices (or federal judges more broadly).
It isn’t hard to see, then, how the right-wing bias of America’s state lines — combined with conservative dominance over the judiciary — could keep the contemporary version of the GOP in business for some time to come. So long as plutocrat-funded, xenophobe-branded Republicans can dominate elections in low-density states, it will be hard for the national party to force an ideological realignment. And so long as John Roberts remains the Supreme Court’s “swing justice,” GOP state governments should be able to push the envelope on suppressing and diluting Democratic votes. Then, in a two-party system, all conservative Republicans would need in order to reclaim the presidency would be a well-timed recession that primes low-information voters’ desire for change.
Read the whole etc.
The ongoing viability of a minority party that is going to further damage democracy because it needs to is going to have very bad and destabilizing impacts on American politics. But that doesn’t make the Republican Party any more likely to collapse.