It seems obvious that this is not a good moment for Republicans. They just lost a presidential election, the seventh of the past eight in which Democrats won the popular vote. Their policy agenda, to the extent they have one, is enormously unpopular; the public isn’t exactly crying out to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut rich people’s taxes.
And chances are that the whiny, infantile loser in the Oval Office will keep his grip on their party for the foreseeable future, driving every sane person in the party to distraction.
But what if that’s the wrong way to look at it? What if the GOP’s current standing is actually nothing short of miraculous?
That certainly seems to be what some people in the party think. As Politico reports, far from engaging in a round of soul-searching after their election loss, Republicans believe that they could hardly be in better shape.
Not only did they do far better in down-ballot races than expected, but also lots of them believe that President Trump lost only because of fraud, which would mean there’s no problem the party has that can’t be solved with some more voter suppression. Just make some adjustments to their turnout strategy (such as refraining from telling their voters not to vote by mail) and future victories are assured.
As one party official from Michigan put it to Politico: “As far as I’m concerned, everything’s great.”
For those of us who have spent time contemplating the GOP’s long-term problems, that sounds preposterous. Republicans are weak with women, with minorities, with young people, and as we saw in this election, even with people in growing suburbs. In a country becoming more diverse by the day, they’re firmly committed to representing White Christians, who are steadily declining as a proportion of the population.
But consider what they have going for them.
The American system as currently constituted gives Republicans a panoply of advantages and means of exercising disproportionate power. The electoral college helps them win elections they lose, which they’ve done twice in the past 20 years. Even this year, with Joe Biden beating Trump by 7 million votes, they came closer than people realize to snatching another such victory: Had Trump gotten just 43,000 more votes in Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin, it would have been a 269-to-269 tie and the House of Representatives would have made Trump president for a second term.
Then you have the absurdly antidemocratic Senate, where the fewer than 600,000 people who live in Wyoming get the same representation as the nearly 40 million who live in California. Though millions more Americans voted to be represented in the Senate by Democrats, Republicans hold the majority.
Republicans’ commitment to gerrymandering has given them outsize power in both the House and state legislatures, and because Democrats didn’t do better in 2020, the next round of redistricting won’t change much. The Supreme Court has given them a hand, eviscerating the Voting Rights Act and declaring that even the most brutal partisan gerrymanders are constitutional. And of course, that Supreme Court now has a 6-to-3 conservative supermajority.
Republicans also have an extraordinarily effective media apparatus they’ve built up over recent decades, which amplifies even the most ludicrous propaganda and keeps their voters in a state of perpetual agitation.
And what did the Trump presidency teach them? As if his corruption and lying and vulgarity and authoritarian tendencies weren’t enough, Trump is responsible for what may be the most catastrophic failure any American president has committed in our country’s history. More than 300,000 Americans and counting are dead from Covid-19, and more than 20 million are out of work. And yet his party paid almost no price.
He may have been held accountable at the voting booth, but they weren’t. Given all that, should we be surprised that Republicans don’t see any reason to change?
Besides, change is hard. There are some Republicans who want to devise a new agenda that could expand the party’s appeal, but that’s no easy task, and it might demobilize some core supporters, which would mean short-term risks in order to achieve long-term benefits. Those who advocate change are losing the argument to others in the party who say, “No thanks — this White racial resentment thing is working pretty well, so we’ll just stick with it for now.”
Republicans might even conclude that losing the presidency is not that bad in the end. It’s not as though they were doing much with it anyway. Once they passed an enormous tax cut for the wealthy and corporations in 2017, they pretty much stopped legislating. Trump certainly used the power of the executive branch in whatever ways he could, but if Republicans hold the Senate, they’ll be able to hamstring the Biden administration in all kinds of ways, increasing the likelihood that his presidency is a failure and putting themselves in a good position to win back the White House in 2024.
Even before then, the swing of the electoral pendulum will probably give them a sweeping victory in the 2022 midterms. And as they know, that is likely to happen regardless of what they do between now and then.
That’s because, as the GOP’s fortunes prove, ours is a system with almost no accountability. They can be dishonest and hypocritical and reckless, and it won’t matter. They can throw sand in the gears of government and voters will blame “Washington,” then punish the president’s party even if it was the opposition’s fault.
Republicans can welcome QAnon lunatics into their coalition, lie endlessly about fictional election fraud, destroy America’s position in the world, lift up the worst president we’ve ever had, show again and again that they’d be incapable of running a corner lemonade stand let alone the U.S. government, and none of it matters.
So yes, from where they stand, “everything’s great.” How could they conclude otherwise?
BTW the CDC now estimates that 400,791 Americans have died as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic, two-thirds directly and one-third indirectly.
400,791 is the agency’s estimate of the total number of excess deaths in the USA this year so far. This is using conservative methodological assumptions in regard to calculating the actual data from the last few weeks, which are seriously incomplete, so the real number is probably somewhat higher.
And again, we were less than 44,000 votes out of 158.4 million cast, i.e., 0.028%, from the almost unimaginable catastrophe of Trump winning another term.