They know the President is toast. But can the GOP even survive defeat when they bet it all on Trump?
THE moment Republicans threw open arms around their presidential nominee in 2016, in an act of political desperation, the Grand Old Party (GOP) began its metamorphosis into the Cult of Trump. Moderate Republicans distanced themselves from their own party in disgust as Trump’s misinformation, incompetence and shameless bombast became the norm. Those that remained either capitulated like invertebrates in pathetic fealty to their new leader, like Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz, or came to receive the relentless ire of Trump’s bullying rhetoric, like John McCain or Jeff Flake. The metamorphosis was complete: Trump, just like a gangland mob boss, owned the Republican Party, from the party machinery right down to the skin of its members.
For a while, this seemed immutable. Just as then-presidential-candidate Trump shrugged off the Access Hollywood revelations, in which he bragging about sexually assaulting women, the Trump Administration has spent the last four years lurching from scandal to scandal that would surely have sunk other presidents, including impeachment, and shrugged them off in turn. This, in large part, was made possible by the unconditional loyalty of a Republican Party who saw latching onto Trump’s populist appeal as their ticket to clinging to political power, whatever the consequence.
But the events of 2020 have finally presented the GOP with consequences that threaten it with existential crisis. And suddenly, the GOP’s willing transmutation into the party of Trumpism is no longer the power-enabling vote-winner it once was. Whilst latching onto the political dynamo of Trump may have been a winning strategy in 2016 when he was a political outsider, the strategy this time is, at least according to the polls, having a very different effect.
A catastrophic loss for a President infamously loathing of ‘losers’, on a scale surely so personally humiliating for him that we without his sociopathic narcissism and vanity can only begin to comprehend it.
It is becoming increasingly clear that Donald Trump is on course to become the fourth one-term president since the Second World War. A catastrophic loss for a President infamously loathing of ‘losers’, on a scale surely so personally humiliating for him that we without his sociopathic narcissism and vanity can only begin to comprehend it. But also electoral disaster for a Republican Party desperate to maintain relevance in a modern, changing America.
The threat to the GOP is existential because the likely political reckoning Trump is three weeks out from succumbing to extends far beyond him. A criminally mishandled pandemic, a refusal to engage with grassroots racial justice movements and an unusually popular Democratic challenger means that support for Trump has collapsed. He is so far behind in the polls that he threatens to drag GOP Senators down with him, thereby handing control of the chamber to Democrats. Even in the House of Representatives, where Democrats won back the majority in the 2018 midterms, the GOP appears on course to lose even more seats and retreat further into the chamber’s minority. The GOP thus faces being shut out of all three elected political institutions in Washington.
States such as Georgia, North Carolina and Texas, previously understood to be synonymous with Republicanism, are undergoing significant demographic shifts that look set to elect Democratic candidates in coming cycles.
But the reckoning extends even further, beyond this election. The political reality the GOP looks set to uncomfortably collide with on November 3rd is that American politics seems to be fundamentally shifting. A Biden presidency, enabled by a Democratic congress and exhorted by an increasingly liberal Democratic activist base, will likely re-calibrate domestic policy onto a leftward trajectory. States such as Georgia, North Carolina and Texas, previously understood to be synonymous with Republicanism, are undergoing significant demographic shifts that look set to elect Democratic candidates in coming cycles, if not sooner. Crucial paths to 270 electoral college votes for future Republican presidential candidates would therefore be blocked. In the Senate, Democratic control could finally enable rightful statehood for Puerto Rico and Washington D.C., likely adding up to four additional Democratic senators to their caucus and cementing their control.
The tide is against the GOP. The party is already firmly in the political minority: George Bush was the last Republican president to win the popular vote in 2004, and Senate Republicans won just 38% of the vote in 2018 despite increasing their seat majority. The imminent fall of Trump, exacerbated by nationwide demographic shifts, will shut the GOP’s brand of conservatism as we know it, out.
Facing annihilation, the GOP seems to have committed to one last gasp of constitutional vandalism as a bowing-out present. In a final act of defiance, the GOP are determined to ram through Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court before the election, in a unequivocally shameless reversal of the position the party took in 2016 in blocking President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland. Securing Barrett’s place on the nation’s highest court would ensure that, although the GOP may lose political power shortly altogether, the Supreme Court would remain, likely for decades, an extremely conservative body with a 6-3 tilt. With five of its current justices nominated by Republican presidents, this would ensure that long after the current crop of Republican dinosaurs die off, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, significantly out of lockstep with the will of the American people, will be free to tear down hard-fought legal precedents, from legalised abortion to equal rights for LGBTQ+ citizens, to voting rights. A collapse in public faith in the American judiciary system will surely follow.
But that doesn’t matter to them. The party seems committed to this final act of vandalism — despite the clear contrary intent of the American people — before it goes into hibernation.
Any Republican president or majority leader of the future will certainly have to represent a fundamentally different brand of American conservatism to that of the Trump-infected GOP today.
The Republican Party will have to adapt and survive. But I suppose that’s just what cockroaches do.