Whither the Grand Old Party?

Jennifer Rubin writes a blog for The Washington Post called Right Turn. It’s advertised as “Rubin’s take from a conservative perspective”. But in recent months she’s been churning out articles with titles like today’s “Americans as a Whole Haven’t Lost Their Minds, But the GOP Has”. That makes perfect sense, of course, because the Grand Old Party is no longer “conservative” in the traditional sense. It’s become the party of radical reactionaries and know-nothings.

Citing an opinion poll that contains bad news for the Republicans, she writes:

Voters say 47 – 38 percent, including 44 – 32 percent among independent voters, that they would like to see Democrats win control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2018 Congressional elections.

Americans, it turns out:

  • Are not bamboozled by his NFL and flag histrionics;
  • Do not think it’s all the media’s fault;
  • Know he is not making America great (stressed and anxious maybe, but not great);
  • Have figured out he’s botching most policy matters — and is a bad person to boot; and
  • Don’t buy into his race-baiting act.

Americans are neither brain-dead nor moral vagrants. In voting for him many probably hated Hillary Clinton more, engaged in wishful thinking about Trump and/or figured incorrectly a rich guy and his friends must know how to do things. But they do not like him now, and that speaks very well of the American people.

The bad news is Republicans overwhelmingly like him, his policies, his distractions, his character, his racial appeals, etc. Among Republicans 79 percent approve of his performance, 79 percent think he is honest (!), 85 percent think he cares about ordinary Americans, 62 percent think he is level-headed (!!) and perhaps worst of all, 78 percent think he shares their values.

Now, it’s possible that having voted for him these Republicans don’t want to admit he is, as LeBron James eloquently put it, a bum. But it’s also possible that a declining share of voters identify as Republicans but that those who do, by and large, live in a Fox News-created political universe in which Trump is just the best. They refuse to see Trump as a bigot or an incompetent narcissist. They believe what he tells them about immigrants, the world and the “liberal elites.”

The question that many #NeverTrump Republicans or now former Republicans face is whether that GOP base has become so divorced from their own world view that they cannot consider themselves Republicans any longer. To be a Republican these days is to be at the very least an apologist for Trump and at the worst a cultist. Maybe these Trump fans were always there in the party, but now they are the dominant voice…. [Note: Crazy right-wingers, now known as “Trump fans”, have indeed always been there.]

It doesn’t seem possible that logic or experience will change the minds of the 75 percent to 80 percent of the GOP who remain in Trump’s quarter…

Rubin concludes that “distressed Republicans and ex-Republicans” have three options, because “the GOP that was, is no longer”:

(1) “Recruit new non-Trumpkins to the GOP (but which Americans would want to join?!) to out-vote Trump’s base” 

(2) “Start a new center-right party (with an invitation out to moderate Democrats)” 

(3) “Set up shop across the aisle as [conservative] Democrats”.

Option (1) is clearly a non-starter, so it’s not worth thinking about. Option (2) could happen if a conservative billionaire or two gave up on the Republican Party and made a serious, highly-publicized effort to recruit candidates and get them on ballots nationwide, although finding a significant number of Republican politicians with the courage to suddenly leave their party sounds highly unlikely.

That leaves option (3). Rubin thinks this would depend on “the direction the Democrats take (will it be the party of Sen. Bernie Sanders or the party of Truman/JFK/Bill Clinton — policy-wise, that is)”. If the Democratic Party moves further to the left, it will make it more difficult for Republicans and ex-Republicans to switch. On the other hand, if conservatives move to the Democratic Party in serious numbers, the party won’t move to the left. It will stay where it is or move to the right. 

In the meantime, Democrats continue to do well in special elections at the state level. Maybe some Republican voters are already switching:

Democrats on Tuesday flipped two seats in special state elections in Florida and New Hampshire.

Earlier this month, Democrats flipped State House seats in New Hampshire and Oklahoma, replacing Republicans in two districts ahead of the 2018 midterm elections….

Since Trump’s election, Democrats have flipped eight GOP-held seats at the state level, and Republicans have yet to flip a seat in 27 special elections.

These results suggest that the Democrats may make even more significant progress in statewide legislative races in Virginia and New Jersey in November, less than six weeks from now.