This article first appeared at The Orange County Register.
In his bitter attack on the new budget agreement, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, stumbled on the reality of his party’s grim identity crisis. Since the Reagan era, the GOP represented a convergence of corporate interests, social conservatives and free market libertarians. Like Paul and the tea party, all three of these groups have lost power and influence under Trump.
Instead the Republican Party, notes Mike Barone, is morphing into something quite different: a hodgepodge of old economy stalwarts, grassroots populists and nationalists of varied, and sometimes distinctly unpleasant, hues. This alliance is not only unstable, but has failed to expand the resident’s base much beyond 40 percent. In terms of party affiliation barely one in five Americans now identifies with the GOP while one in three favors the Democrats.
To be sure, Republican control of the states is at a historic high-water mark, but the fundamentals nationally seem to be collapsing. Its base constituencies — small towns, white male and high school educated voters — are demographically shrinking, with little chance of a strong turnaround in the short run. To survive, the party must find a way to expand, not further shrink, its political base or end up a pathetic rump, like the Republican Party of California.
The Trump campaign reflected both nativism and economic distress. It was particularly persuasive in the Midwest, the Southeast and the Intermountain West, where Americans still harvest and build tangible goods. Even the notion of tougher border enforcement, although not mass deportations of those already here, remains popular with a broad spectrum of Americans — including an upward of 40 percent of Hispanics.
But the mean-spirited cast of these policies given by Trump has weakened the party. Former advisor Steve Bannon’s unforgivable, cynical and ultimately counter-productive embrace of alt-right white nationalists has slowed the shift of groups like Jews to the GOP and turned off minority voters en masse. Being “anti-progressive” is not enough to build a strong majority party, as some have suggested.
The base that might cheer Confederate flags or support mass deportations is simply insufficient for an effective national party. The white middle-age voters of today seem all but certain to decrease as minority voter numbers swell. Millennials, ethnically diverse, and now tilting to the Democrats, are about to become the largest voting blog and clearly will determine the future of American politics. A successful party must ultimately appeal to expanding constituencies, not fading ones.
Read the entire piece at The Orange County Register.