Republicans have won only one popular presidential vote in the past 32 years.
George H.W. Bush won it back in 1988, thanks to his campaign’s use of the black parolee Willie Horton’s committing rape to upend what had been a sure victory for Michael Dukakis. Prior to the Horton campaign ad, Dukakis had a 17 point lead, but went on to lose by 8 percentage points in the popular vote. The only GOP win of the presidential popular vote since 1988, George W. Bush’s 2004 victory, was fueled by pro-war, post-9/11 propaganda. Both father and son used racialized fear to win the popular vote, the latter towards African Americans and W. towards dark-skinned Muslim “terrorists.”
In recent history Republicans have struggled to win presidential elections, due to their decrease in national popularity. Nevertheless, the electoral college system has allowed the GOP to eke out presidential victories in 3 out of 8 presidential elections since 1988.
But their diminished popular vote count has portended a dim future for the party.
Today, the GOP is a floundering fish out of water.
75% of Republicans have opted for an alternate reality where Joe Biden did not legitimately win the 2020 presidential election.
The GOP’s dire need for an alternative reality is well-founded. Demographics are changing. The number of people of color is increasing and whites will be in the minority in a bit over 20 years. Despite Hispanic Americans’ increased tilt towards Trump in 2020, unless Republican Party completely overhauls its platform and outreach efforts, most POC won’t vote for these politicians who stand in stark contrast to their interests.
Trump intuitively knew something that past Republicans didn’t get. Today’s conspiratorial and overtly white supremacist wings of the Republican Party, formerly disconnected from and disillusioned by the GOP, needed a proper welcoming in order to win elections. From Charlottesville’s “very fine people on both sides,” to the Proud Boys’ “stand back and stand by” comments, Trump signaled very clearly that these hate groups are embraced as part of the GOP.
Additionally, Trump understood that to win presidential elections in a country where Republican popularity is on the wane, the GOP can’t survive by facing reality head on – even with a healthy dose of xenophobia and racism added in. The GOP required a new universe, to which many already subscribed, and many more would subscribe after the 2020 election, where facts could be constructed from thin air. Once contrived, the alt facts would directly bind to the GOP’s election win well before the first vote was even cast.
Sensing his loss in 2020, Trump railed against the mail-in ballot over seven months prior to the election. He knew that people who appreciated the threat of the coronavirus were unlikely to support him and were far more likely to use mail-in ballots. So, to fix an election win, Trump claimed the mail-in method was fraudulent. Just like with everything else Trump says, his supporters immediately bought into this; and, hence, the Stop the Steal movement began well over a half year before the 2020 election.
Today, as the ash heap of the Republican Party condemns Biden for not adhering to his vow of unifying the country, there is a profound split in the organization.
The Mitch McConnell wing of the GOP will try to return to the old methods of voter suppression and disenfranchisement, and more subtle racial and xenophobic fears to win elections. The Kevin McCarthy wing wants to proceed as the Stop the Steal party and take most of its orders directly from Donald Trump, including using alternate reality to turn out core supporters.
On one hand, there is far more fuel behind the McCarthy wing of the party. But this strategy will fail to gain support from Never Trumpers or from center-right leaning Americans who have voted for Mitt Romney or John McCain in the past. The McConnell method harkens back to a more militant and desperate version of the pre-Trump era. Tried and true Trumpist artifices will be adopted under this strategy; for example, supporting wedge issues such as border wall construction and oil drilling. Fear of the racial and ethnic other will also remain in the McConnell toolkit, but in a more measured fashion. Under the McConnell strategy, Trump populism will be an important wing of the GOP but won’t dominate it, and mainstream reality would generally be adhered to.
Whatever strategy prevails, the GOP is fish dead out of water.
The Republican Party may cobble together legislative and presidential wins in 2022 and 2024, respectively. But after that, due to increasing demographic shifts, without major policy changes and outreach, the present-day Republican Party has no future.
The base intuitively understands this, which is why they’ve opted for alternate reality and insurrection. Just as historically fearful minorities have ruled through despotism, from Iraq’s Ba’athe Party, the South African apartheid state and in Rhodesia, the US’s minority – the GOP voter – prefers authoritarianism and alternative facts to democracy.
For this is the only way that the Republican Party can win elections.