The Election 2016 Election Chronicles Volume 11: Are We Witnessing the End of the Republican Party?

I’m aware that I’ve just written possibly the most provocative subject line of this blog, but it’s been percolating in my head for a while now. At least give it a read before forming an opinion.

Currently in United States most partisan offices are held by members of the Republican or Democrat parties. Nearly everyone knows that there are minor parties (even if we can’t name them) but the 2 major parties really call the shots. And since it’s been that way for all of our memories, we can easily think that it’s always been that way.

It hasn’t. The GOP was formed in 1854 in opposition to slavery. But it didn’t form out of nothing: it rose from (some of) the ashes of the Whig party which was itself formed in opposition to President Andrew Jackson who they referred to as “King Andrew.” It can be reasonably said that President Jackson was the first President who identified as Democrat.

It’s telling that from the beginning the Whigs had only one purpose: opposition to the Democrats. That said they had some success. Members included Presidents William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Millard Fillmore. Influential non Presidents included Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and Winfield Scott. Oh yes, and a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, Abraham Lincoln.

Slavery was the issue that ultimately doomed them. For 21st Century Democrats like me, it’s hard to imagine this but Democrats of the 1840s and 1850s were united in their support of slavery. Not only did they demand that slavery continue in the South, but that it expand westward as territories in the Midwest and West became states. After Andrew Jackson, Democrat Presidents before the Civil War were James K. Polk from North Carolina, Franklin Pierce from New Hampshire, and James Buchanan from Pennsylvania. And while Pierce and Buchanan were from Northern states, they were pretty feckless. One could make the argument that while they didn’t cause the Civil War, their passivity only delayed it.

As the expansion of slavery continued to divide the nation, the Whig party continued to try to remain the party that opposed the Democrats, regardless of any other issue. That inevitably led to a split between the Whigs who opposed slavery and those who didn’t. Northern Whigs opposed the westward expansion of slavery and southern Whigs didn’t. The divide couldn’t be resolved and eventually the southern Whigs joined the Democrats and the northern Whigs formed a new party that opposed both the Democrats and slavery. They called themselves Republicans.

Since then both parties have changed dramatically. President Lincoln successfully kept us together and paved the way to abolish slavery before being assassinated. And while (male) former slaves were eligible to vote, few were able because of deep-seated discrimination for a hundred years. But most of those who were able to register to vote identified as Republicans. This lasted until the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt who they saw as more progressive on civil rights.

Enter today’s Republican Party. Like their Whig ancestors they unite against only this: the defeat of the Democrats. Nothing else matters.

So here’s their problem: there are factions that oppose each other in how they plan to govern and the only uniting factor (defeating the Democrats) won’t give them a path to victory. So let me give a few examples:

  • The Current Race for the Republican Nomination is a mess: For several election cycles the field of candidates has been full, but this time (and at this time) the front runners are Ben Carson and Donald Trump. They are united in this: neither has any political experience. Furthermore, both used to be Democrats. You can read about this here but Ben Carson was a Democrat until November 2014. Donald Trump, in a CNN interview three months ago, admitted he identified as a Democrat in 2004. His “party trail” is more complicated but you can read more about it here. In 1987 he registered as a Republican. In 1999 he changed to the Independence Party. In 2001 he changed to the Democrats. In 2009 he (again) registered as a Republican. Finally, in 2012 he declined to register as a member of any party. In other words, none of the other Republican candidates poll well against two guys who only professed their loyalty to the party in the last few years.
  • Their fights are getting more public and public and more ugly: Ronald Reagan famously proclaimed the Eleventh Commandment: Though Shalt Never Speak Ill of Another Republican. Republicans have famously fought in private while Democrats are often described as using a “circular firing squad” in their conflicts. But this is beginning to fall apart. My best, current example focuses on the Benghazi hearings. The Congressional investigation’s Republican leader, Trey Gowdy recently told fellow Republicans to “shut up” after some of them admitted that the Benghazi investigation was nothing more than a political ploy to hurt Hillary Clinton.
  • They can’t seem to agree on a new Speaker of the House. In January, 2011 John Boehner rose to a position he’d sought for years: Speaker of the House of Representatives. Once there he learned that his tenure would be far from easy. Conservative members of his party (often called the Freedom Caucus) signaled early on that they felt no loyalty to Boehner or the House of Representatives. They’ve been nothing short of an ongoing migraine and finally, last month he’d had enough. He announced he was resigning his seat in Congress and his role as Speaker. He endorsed the majority leader, Kevin McCarthy to succeed him and fully expected that to happen. It didn’t. Rep. McCarthy recognized that he didn’t have the support of the Freedom Caucus and he withdrew earlier this month. As I write this Paul Ryan has agreed to run with the hope that the Freedom Caucus will allow him to lead. I doubt they will.
  • Since 1992 the Republican candidate for President has won the popular vote only once. Bill Clinton won in 1992 and 1996. In 2000 George W. Bush won the electoral vote but not the popular vote. In 2008 and 2012 Barack Obama won the popular vote. Only in 2004 did George Bush win the popular vote. Clearly history is not on the Republican side.
  • All the Republican demographics are decreasing. In the 2012 election 88% of Mitt Romney’s voters were white. For much of the last century white voters comprised enough of the voting population that minorities didn’t matter. They do now. Our population from south of our border has exploded. Some of them vote because they have become naturalized citizens, but most vote because they were born here, children of immigrants. There’s an excellent Pew Research Center article entitled: A Deep Dive Into Party Affiliation that was published last April. It identified groups that tilt Republican: Mormons, White Evangelical Protestants, White Southerners, White Men (some college or less), White, and the Silent Generation (those born 1929-1946). Groups that tilt Democrat include Blacks, Asian, Religiously Unaffiliated, Post-Graduate Women, Jewish, Hispanic, and Millenial Generation (those born 1982-1997).

    So what happens from here? Clearly this doesn’t mean that everyone will become Democrat. While I choose to be Democrat I fully understand good and honest people disagree with me on many issues. Perhaps the Republicans will be able to reform themselves into a new party that better reflects the changing values of our nation. Perhaps they will split into different parties: some Republicans don’t care about gay marriage but feel government is too big. Others fear that we are losing our identity as Americans because so many people come from other places with different values and have no trouble with government protecting our food supply or air quality.

    When the Whig party split, some became Democrats and some formed the Republican party. This gave the immediate advantage to the Democrats but Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860, six years after it was formed.

    My point in this blog entry is not to cheer the possible demise of the Republican Party, but just to point out that our nation is changing. Our demographics show that we are becoming a nation that embraces marriage equality, an openness to immigration, and wants health care to be available to all.

    There’s an opportunity to respond to this blog entry. If you do respond I will read it. But please don’t send me a response that claims President Obama is a Muslim terrorist or that Hillary Clinton has killed people. It only makes you look like an idiot.

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