The era of Donald Trump will be ending soon. It may end this week, if, as nearly all polls indicate, he loses the election. Of course, the 2016 presidential election, and many other elections here and abroad, teach us to be wary of polls. A Trump defeat is not certain. But even if Trump pulls off another surprising win, he will become a lameduck President as soon as he takes his second oath. Maneuvering within the Republican Party for succession in 2024 will begin immediately. One way or another, Donald Trump will soon be history.
Now is as good a time as any to speculate on the state of the Republican Party in the Year One A.D. (After Donald).
Fifty years ago, in a book entitled The Emerging Republican Majority, a nerdy 28-year old White House staffer named Kevin Phillips expounded the proposition that American politics progresses in 32 or 36-year stages, during which one party dominates the other. Thus, 1896 – 1932 saw the Republican Party in control, with the single exception of the Wilson administration. The period of 1932 – 1968 saw the Democratic Party ascendant, with the single exception of the Eisenhower years.
Phillips argued that 1968 would usher in a new era of Republican dominance. His book was dedicated to President Richard Nixon and Attorney General John Mitchell, the two supposed “architects” of the emerging Republican Majority. Unfortunately for his thesis, Watergate occurred. Five years after the Republican majority was supposed to emerge, one “architect” had resigned in disgrace and the other was headed for prison following his conviction for obstruction of justice and perjury.
Considering the GOP’s problems, it is tempting to predict that the Year One A.D. will witness the advent of an Emerging Republican Minority. If Trump loses, he will likely take down a number of Republican candidates with him, and the GOP will almost certainly lose the Senate. With Democratic control of the House already assured, that means that the Party will have the White House and both Houses of Congress for the first time since Barack Obama’s election.
If that comes to pass, it is easy to envision a long period of Democratic ascendancy, of the sort that Phillips saw as recurrent in American political history. One can imagine the Democrats making Trump the symbol of the GOP, and effectually running against the “Trump Republicans” election after election for decades — just as the Republican Party kept running against the “Rebel Democrats” for years after the Civil War; and just as the Democratic Party kept running against the “Hoover Republicans” for years after the Depression.
Another reason for expecting a long-term Democratic ascendancy concerns young voters. The Democratic Party has been very successful attracting such voters. A recent poll released by Harvard’s Institute of Politics shows Biden ahead of Trump by a 65% to 25% margin among voters 18 to 29 years of age. Voting is habit-forming. For many young voters, how they vote early in their lives will constitute a reliable predictor of how they vote throughout their lives.
Finally, while the Parties may vie with each other on roughly equal terms in the political sphere, there is no contest in the academic world. Recent surveys show that college teachers have a 5:1 liberal to conservative ratio, while college administrators have a 12:1 ratio. As Professor Samuel Abrams of Sarah Lawrence College noted in a New York Times column: “It appears that a fairly liberal student body is being taught by a very liberal professoriate — and socialized by an incredibly liberal group of administrators.” These skewed ratios are likely to become even more lopsided as the cancel culture spreads, and both students and professors face greater risks in articulating unfashionably dissenting viewpoints.
All of these factors point to a future in which the ranks of young voters, which already lean heavily Democratic, are replenished year after year by cadres of ever more Leftist college graduates. Such a process would seem to augur well for the kind of long-term Democratic dominance described by Phillips, a dominance likely to reinforce itself and grow stronger election after election.
But just as Phillips’ dream of an Emerging Republican Majority in 1970 proved a phantasm, an Emerging Republican Minority might also prove delusional. In fact, Democratic control of the White House and Congress could generate an Emerging Republican Opportunity. In the short-run, Democrats might dominate. In the long-run, they might implode.
Recent history supports that expectation. In 2008, Barack Obama was elected with Democratic majorities in both Houses of Congress. Ironically, his eight years in office led to an incredible growth spurt for the Republican Party.
In 2010, the Republicans took back the House. In 2014, they took back the Senate. President Obama entered the White House with a 60-seat majority in the Senate and 257-seat majority in the House. When he left, Democrats held a 48-seat minority in the Senate and 194-seat minority in the House — a net loss of 12 Senate and 63 House seats.
At the state level, the numbers were even more staggering. Obama entered the White House with Democrats in control of both chambers in 27 state legislatures. Eight years later, Democrats controlled both chambers in only 13 states. During the Obama years, the Democratic Party lost a net total of 13 governorships and 816 state legislative seats. Among the states that slipped from Democratic control were Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Iowa, all of which were significant in the election of Donald Trump in 2016.
Trump came into office with Republicans holding 33 governorships, and controlling both chambers of 32 state legislatures. Liberal commentator Matthew Iglesias described the condition of the Democratic Party as “a smoking pile of rubble.”
Could a Democratic victory in November 2020 have the ironic effect of rejuvenating the Republican Party?
For the past four years, the nation has focused on President Trump and his many personal shortcomings: paying hush money to a porn star, paying little or no income taxes, unlawfully transferring money to build a wall, withholding aid to an ally to pressure it to investigate a political rival, and on and on ad nauseam. His norm-shattering transgressions are variegated but they all have one important attribute in common: they are personal, not political. Donald Trump has had low approval ratings throughout his term in office, but there is nothing to support the view that his unpopularity is a result of his policies. On the contrary, his unpopularity appears to persist despite his polices.
The economy provides evidence supporting this thesis. According to Real Clear Politics, Trump’s current approval rating is a negative 13.2%. Now look back to January 1, 2020, before COVID, before the lockdown of the economy and the stock market crash, back to when we were enjoying, in Trump’s words, “the greatest economy in the history of our country.” What was his approval rating in those halcyon days? Negative 13.0%, almost exactly the same as today.
This suggests that the main problem facing Donald Trump, and the reason for his probable defeat, is: Donald Trump. It is the man, not the policies. A Republican administration favoring the same policies he has supported – lower corporate and individual tax rates, pro-fracking, appointing conservative judges, support for Israel and moving our embassy to Jerusalem – would probably prove popular.
A Biden-Harris victory would remove the Trumpian albatross from the GOP’s neck, and would allow the nation to focus instead on the Democratic Party for a change. Now it is unclear what policies a Biden-Harris administration will pursue. Biden has refused to allow himself to be pinned down on many of these issues. But it is clear what policies the activist wing of the Party will promote.
These include such deeply unpopular ideas as: court packing, banning fracking, reparations, admitting two new states, abolishing the filibuster, and defunding the police. Whether or not the Biden administration actually tries to implement these policies, the progressive wing of the Party will make sure that they are thoroughly aired. As a result, the public will associate them with the Democrats.
But the best hope for an Emerging Republican Opportunity may have less to do with policy than with attitude. The nonstop focus on Trump over the past four years has concealed the fact that the Democratic Party has grown ever more obnoxious.
One recent incident illustrates this attitude. Last Wednesday, the Girls Scouts tweeted congratulations to Amy Coney Barrett for becoming the fifth woman named to the Supreme Court. The tweet was obviously non-ideological, featuring an image of Justice Barrett alongside images of Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. It was the sort of celebratory “girl power!” message the Girl Scouts regularly issue to encourage girls to pursue their dreams. But nothing is non-ideological to the modern Democratic Party. Within hours, Democratic Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley condemned the organization for the tweet, and then the usual crowd of celebrities and activists quickly piled on. The Girls Scouts promptly bowed to the pressure, and took down the tweet, a move which journalist Megyn Kelly aptly termed “pathetic.”
Of course, there is risk in conferring too much significance to one small incident. But it is worth mentioning because the reaction to the Girl Scout tweet – in all its identitarian, intolerant, and sanctimonious redolence – is indicative of the modern progressive ethos, and it may well be indicative of the mindset and attitude associated with the Democratic Party when it assumes control, as now appears likely.
Certainly, the Republican Party will do all it can to assure that the public makes that association. In George Orwell’s 1984, O’Brien, the Party official, tells Winston Smith, the protagonist: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face— forever.” If you want a picture of Democratic Party dominance as drawn by the Republican Party, imagine a boot stamping on a Girl Scout’s face for eight years.
Melodramatic? Of course. But in the Year One A.D., freed from the burden of finding excuses for Donald Trump’s latest embarrassments, the Republican Party will have the opportunity to paint that picture and the Democrats may give them the canvas.