A Democratic wave is slowly gaining energy. Could a Republican wipe-out ensue?
Consider this: Donald Trump is getting trounced by 11 points in the recent Quinnipiac poll. That one may be an outlier, but Biden is also up by 8 in the latest Fox News poll. More importantly, he continues to expand the electoral map, consistently besting Trump in Arizona, a state that wasn’t considered vital to his path to victory. He’s also winning in Florida and (albeit narrowly) Georgia (!).
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate map is experiencing a similar blue-ish expansion. Democrats need three seats to take control (four, if you assume that Democrat Doug Jones will lose in Alabama), a hurdle that looks increasingly doable.
Should this trend continue, Republicans will have, in four short years, gone from controlling all the levers of power to losing them all. Did I mention that Democrats will retain the House of Representatives, which Republicans lost in year two of Trump’s presidency?
To be fair, Republicans have the misfortune of holding power during a pandemic that has wrecked what had been a pretty strong economy. Modern Americans tend to re-elect incumbent presidents, but—like 20th century one-termers Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush—Donald Trump is now trying to win re-election during a recession/depression.
In the case of Hoover and Carter, the opposition party that took over ended up controlling the White House for at least a dozen years. Could Trump’s legacy be ushering in an era of undivided Democratic rule?
Even before Trump completed his hostile takeover of the GOP, the future looked tenuous for a party that had grown increasingly reliant on old, white, married, rural, and non-college-educated voters, even as demographic trends seem to be shifting in an opposite direction.
Some speculated that Trump’s 2016 victory might constitute one last, desperate, gasp for this demographic coalition. If that were the case, the trade-off might be worth it—especially if it bought time for the GOP to adapt.
Some thought the answer was to rebrand the GOP into a working-class party that included working-class Hispanics. But Trump chose to fan the flames of racial division, which also served to alienate educated white suburbanites who had once supported the GOP. His actions accelerated the political reordering that was already threatening the GOP’s long-term future.
He didn’t just burn the village, he sowed salt in the ground, too. He emasculated and destroyed the reputations of a rising generation of Republican leaders, who, depending on their story, will now be viewed as weaklings, co-conspirators, appeasers, racists, phonies, losers, or apostates.
Consider 2016 conservative runner-up Ted Cruz, who briefly stood up to Trump, only to be tamed by him. Or Marco Rubio, who said he didn’t trust Trump with the nuclear codes, but now warns it would be “catastrophic” for the cause of freedom if Trump loses.
The most promising young-ish conservatives have been, to some degree, compromised by Trump. If you embrace him, you look weak and intellectually dishonest. If you stand up to him (see Jeff Flake and Justin Amash), you’re toast. And if you try to have it both ways (see Nikki Haley and Ben Sasse), you look calculating, ambitious, and wishy-washy. This might be the worst strategy of all, because you'll never be Trumpy enough for the Trumpists, but you’ll also end up alienating the rest of us.
In short, a future GOP leader will have a hard time escaping Trump’s long shadow. It’s hard to think of anyone on the bench who hasn’t, to one degree or another, been damaged. Good luck finding an unblemished savior who hasn’t, in some way, been tarnished by Trump. And even if you do, who’s to say that enduring a crushing electoral defeat would even be enough for the GOP’s ornery base of voters to have a “come to Jesus” moment?
Let’s assume 2020 is a total wipe out for Republicans. Do these Republicans kick Trump to the curb and adapt to reality? That would be the smart move. But the intra-party civil war will probably be like none we've ever seen. And, of course, Trump isn't going away. He'll probably still hold rallies. Fox News will have to decide whether to continue to promote/support him or dump him. There might be a schism on that decision, even within Fox.
What this means is that it’s possible a Trump loss could have even greater ramifications than simply losing the White House. A post-Trump hangover could last for years.
Of course, people have been writing the GOP’s obituary for longer than I’ve been alive, so a caveat is in order: Polls can be wrong. Things can change. What if a Supreme Court vacancy opens up? What if Joe Biden says that if you don’t vote for him, “you ain’t black”? (Oh, he did that!)
What is more, it’s possible that President Biden could do a lousy job, and that an emerging anti-China ethos will fuel the rise of a Republican like Tom Cotton or Josh Hawley in 2024.
There is no such thing as permanent defeat, because there’s no such thing as permanent victory.
But after three years of chaos and botching a major pandemic, Republicans are facing some stiff headwinds. There is increasing danger that these winds could blow ashore this November.
The possibility of a sort of dark ages looms on the political horizon.
Tired of winning yet?