What will the Republican Party look like after the November election?
Today, I see the GOP as a coalition of three regional parties. The first is the Dixiecrats, the white supremacists of the Old South. As most know, they switched from Democrat to Republican after the passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s. The next is a Far West anti-Federal government party (think Cliven Bundy and Dick Cheney) for whom making the Federal government smaller and less intrusive is the key issue. Lastly, there are the pro-business technocrats of the North-East/coasts/suburbs.
As long as the white supremacists were just a base that could be called out to vote for the pro-business candidate, the GOP was happy to exploit them and coddle them. Reagan-Bush was a classic example of the coalition electing a Western, anti-Federal President and a North-Eastern, pro-business Vice President with the votes of the white grievance faction.
However, the grip of the pro-business faction on the party leadership has been slipping, as can be seen by the length of the contested period during the GOP primaries. From Bush to McCain to Romney, it was taking longer to beat back the Mike Huckabees and Ted Cruzes. Changing the rules to allow the pro-business candidate to win faster had the unintended consequence of allowing Trump’s candidacy to succeed.
Procedural changes such as proportional voting and closed primaries will help the next time. But in the short and long term, the party has to deal with the surfacing of white grievance as the driver of so much of what the GOP has stood for.
Just recently, voter suppression laws have been shot down that were latest attempt to keep minorities from voting. Gerrymandering is also slowly being eroded as a tool of party support. Corporate influence in politics, exemplified by the Citizens United ruling, will also come under attack in a new Supreme Court that will shift to a more moderate equilibrium after Scalia’s replacement is seated.
Prior to the accession of Trump, the center of the GOP was almost perfectly represented by the Koch brothers. The Kochs, working with others, have spent a lot of money making the Republicans the vehicle for their beliefs. Much of that is now at risk.
But will it fail completely?
No. If for no other reason, the billionaire class still wants a return on their investment.
Trump is so far from the conservative norm, it will be relatively easy for down ticket Republicans to repudiate his failure as a personal failure, not a failure of the brand or philosophy of conservatism.
I expect that state-wide elections will be the first place to see the effect of changing perceptions of the GOP brand. Senators and governors will have to react to a shift to urban and minority voters animated by Trump long before Representatives and state legislators in safely gerrymandered districts.
Aligning the Senate and the White House will give the Democrats a window to set the Supreme Court in a progressive direction, and pursue foreign policy without fear of contradiction. Aligning the state executives with the Federal executive will ease the implementation of healthcare reform.
The Trump disaster may affect the GOP’s ability to mount a mid-term reversal of Democratic gains. However, it remains true that Clinton’s first two years are her best opportunity to pass tax hikes on the rich that will directly counter income inequality and pay for stabilizing Social Security, free college, or single payer health care.
At issue will be whether the pro-business Republicans can use the moment of Trump’s collapse to free themselves from the Tea Party fanatics. Paul Ryan will have to choose between the complete obstructionism of Newt Gingrich that created gridlock for 12 years (the last 6 years of Clinton and Obama) or reaching across the aisle to govern with Democratic moderates for as long as he holds the gavel.
In the end, the GOP control of the House depends on the fate of the Dixiecrat wing. Jeff Sessions will be a key example of whether the GOP South can move to leaders like Nikki Haley fast enough to hold off electoral losses that will lose the GOP the House majority.
It is in no one’s best interest for the GOP to collapse. We need a voice calling for efficient and right-sized government. We need a robust two-party system. But the GOP really does need to exorcise the demons of racism at the core of one of its key constituencies. The 2012 reform package will need to be implemented and then some. Crush the racism of the Dixiecrats, and the GOP might survive. Repudiate the intransigent dickishness of Gingrich, and begin to thrive.