The Future of the GOP: How They Lost in 2020 and How They Can Win in the Future
Disclaimer: This article is not an endorsement of any political party or candidate. This article simply makes observations based on available data.
“The GOP may be at one of its lowest points ever,” Republican Maryland governor Larry Hogan tweets. Not only have the Democrats regained control of all parts of the government, they have done so in a surprising way. Joe Biden won Georgia and Arizona, two states that have not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1992 and 1996 respectively. Moreover, President Donald Trump won Texas with a mere 5.6 point lead, consistently declining since 2012 when Mitt Romney won a 15.8 point lead. The trends in these three states should be concerning for the GOP if it has any hope of winning elections in the future. Yet the numbers only tell one side of the story. The GOP should view Trump’s loss as an opportunity to pave a new path forward and begin winning elections in the near and distant future.
As Trump narrowly lost the 2020 presidential election, he did what no presidential candidate in history has done before; he failed to accept the election results. He also misled millions of people into believing the election was stolen from him. This misinformation escalated into the infamous Capitol Riots, greatly damaging the party. The GOP had lost the Senate earlier that day—a further loss to the party. And all these losses were Trump’s fault. Had not Trump called the election “rigged,” perhaps the Republicans could have held the Senate. After all, Trump spent much of his time attacking his own party in Georgia, especially Brad Raffensberger and Brian Kemp. He wasted precious time that could have been used instead to attack Warnock and Ossoff. His false election claims fueled an online movement to boycott the January 5th election, evident by the lower turnout rates in strong rural, Republican strongholds in Georgia. The Democrats outperformed in the Georgia Senate runoffs compared to the presidential election, widening their margins of victory. If it was not for the events of the past few months, perhaps Trump would not be leaving office with an extremely low 34% approval rating.
So the Democrats now control every branch of government, and Trump is gone from the public eye. Having been banned by virtually every online platform, his divisive rhetoric has been silenced. It is yet to be determined if, how, and when he will maintain the influence he had over the past four years. Regardless of his absence from social media, the GOP needs to completely move on from Trump in order to succeed.
This act is obviously much easier said than done, however. The mainstream Republican Party has shifted farther and farther to the right, embracing “Trumpism” by following and agreeing with everything Donald Trump says and does, no matter how polarizing and divisive they are. Trumpism values loyalty to Trump and his ideas far more than unity, even within the Republican Party. Ted Cruz, who heavily criticized Trump in the 2016 primaries, became perhaps Trump’s most loyal defender. He and fellow Senator Josh Hawley were both so loyal to Trump that they were the leaders in defending Trump’s false election fraud claims, both voting to object to the Electoral College vote even after the Capitol riots.
However, the fact that Donald Trump won in 2016 when both moderates John McCain and Mitt Romney did not is seen by some as evidence that Trumpism worked in the short-term. Even in 2020, Trump won more electoral votes than McCain and Romney, winning 232 as opposed to 173 and 206 respectively. So, it makes sense that the mainstream GOP is trying to ride the wave of past successes.
McCain and Romney had their limitations, but lost primarily because of their powerful opponent, Barack Obama. Trump had an extremely easy opponent in 2016: Hillary Clinton, who was highly unpopular. While Trump’s campaign strategies were clever in the short term, they were unsuccessful in the long term. In Arizona, a crucial swing state, Trump loyalists lost elections while traditional Republicans succeeded. The Democrats won both Senate seats in 2018 and 2020, defeating Trump-loyalist Martha McSally twice. The GOP even lost their House majority in 2020. Yet, the GOP needs not to lose hope with Arizona, but rather embrace their successes rather than their failures. In 2018, Doug Ducey won the gubernatorial race with a strong 14.2% margin of victory, even larger than his 2014 run. Jeff Flake won his Senate race by a larger margin than his Democratic successors’ wins. And of course John McCain has historically performed very well in Arizona elections, serving over 30 years as Senator. What all these candidates had in common is that they were all moderate Republicans. John MCain was the crucial vote in saving Obamacare from destruction. And the Arizona GOP recently censured Flake and Ducey, marking a great distinction between the Trumpist and moderate wings of the GOP. Trumpism has caused a great sting of losses for the Arizona GOP, and the entire GOP must learn from their own mistakes in order to win in the future.
Despite these facts, no one should underestimate the Trump base. About half of Republicans think the 2020 election was “rigged,” which is a concerning statistic considering the future success of the Republican Party. And if Trump runs in 2024 as a Republican, he would be the front runner for the presidential nomination. While Trump could still beat Joe Biden, he and the entire Republican Party has to build back a reputation that has been greatly tarnished. For these reasons, the Republican Party desperately needs a long-term strategy to win future races. The party must build coalitions, using strategies that Democrats found effective, such as registering voters and on-the-ground organizing. As time goes on and younger people become old enough to vote, Republicans need to reach these voters to remain competitive. NBC exit polls suggest that 65% of those between the ages of 18 and 24 voted for Biden — 11% more than any other age group. The younger the age group, the larger vote percentage for Biden, exit polls show.
Democrats have been at the forefront of American cultural institutions such as the entertainment industry, the media, and especially social media. The left-leaning bias of much of the media has posed a greater challenge for the GOP than ever. Combined with social media, the Democrats have a very powerful arsenal in their hands, and the GOP must fight back in these avenues if they want to win in the future. Democrats’ cultural significance helps drive enthusiasm in young voters in a way Republicans have not in recent years. For instance, targeting young voters paid off in the Georgia senate runoffs, where both Democrat candidates ended up winning with greater margins than the November presidential election. Voter turnout in Georgia was the highest in history for a Senate runoff election, which was partly driven by the prominent social media platforms both Warnock and Ossoff had. Culturally, the importance of the Georgia senate elections was felt nationwide. And it was driven by Democrats, not Republicans.
For the GOP to succeed in the future, it needs to win back cultural institutions and embrace moderate policies. Democrats dominate nearly every prominent cultural institution. President Joe Biden has openly embraced moderation and unity, appealing to moderate Democrats and even some conservatives in a way that Trump did not. Now, Republicans need to learn from Biden and nominate a moderate frontrunner in 2024, preferably not Trump. If Trump is nominated, he must change his strategy completely lest he lose the election again. Regardless of what happens in the short term, however, Republicans will need a long-term plan to rebuild a base that they now have a critical opportunity to do so.
When the new Republican Party proves to value unity and competence, people will vote accordingly. These current challenges may be a point of hope for the Republican Party. As Larry Hogan tweets, “Reagan reclaimed the White House for Republicans just six years after President Richard Nixon was forced to resign in disgrace.” The true uncertainty of the future means anything is possible, and the GOP can either despair or hope.
Image Credit: NBC News