While the outcome is not a given yet, it is looking more and more likely that Donald Trump will not only lose to Hillary Clinton in November, he will get crushed by her.
If current polling holds, or even comes close to holding, he will bring the Senate, and perhaps the House, down with him.
A Clinton win will mark the sixth time in the last seven presidential elections that Democrats have won the popular vote, and the fifth time in the last seven where a Democrat has won the presidency. For the sake of my sanity, we won’t get into the 2000 election.
The question facing the GOP after November will be what kind of party they want to be going forward. How will the party react to yet another drubbing in a presidential election?
They could follow the same path the Democrats took in the early 1990s. From the late 1960s to late 1980s, Democrats were the party that played strictly to their liberal base. Republicans, meanwhile, had a much broader coalition and consistently won states in the Northeast, West, and Upper Midwest.
The nominations of George McGovern, Walter Mondale, and Michael Dukakis may have played well with the liberal party activists, but the broader electorate found them too extreme and it led to a string of landslide losses in 1972, 1980, 1984, and 1988. The GOP won 49 states in 1972, 43 states in 1980, 49 states in 1984, and 40 states in 1988 and averaged 490 electoral votes over those four victories.
Democrats only won once over that time period; a squeaker in 1976 despite running against the guy who pardoned Richard Nixon after the Watergate scandal forced him to resign from office.
Something had to change; and the move to the center allowed the party to broaden their appeal to the country’s more conservative electorate and lead to Bill Clinton’s victory in 1992 over President George H.W. Bush.
Republicans can do something similar by moderating on a number of social issues like marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage to appeal to younger voters and voters with a college degree. Two demographic groups trending hard towards Democrats.
They can also support comprehensive immigration reform to gain support among the growing Hispanic electorate and actually acknowledge some of the issues important to the African American community, like police brutality and systemic racism.
Doing this will not give Republicans majorities among these voting blocs by any means, but they could pick off enough of their support to flip states like Florida, Ohio, Colorado, and Virginia. More importantly, it could prevent them from being the victims of changing demographics in traditional red states like North Carolina, Texas, Arizona, and Georgia.
Or they can double down even further on the path that led them to 2016.
Many Republican Party leaders seem to know the party has to do something to try and broaden the party’s appeal to a younger, more diverse, left-of-center electorate. The autopsy the party drafted after Mitt Romney’s 2012 defeat showed as much. Hell even Sean Hannity, of all people, said after the 2012 election that his views on immigration reform had evolved to the point where he would support it.
However, rank and file voters, and media figures on Fox “News” and talk radio, including Hannity, who devolved back to opposing immigration reform, pulled them even further in the opposite direction. Instead of moderating, they have only grown more angry, extreme, and vitriolic against President Obama, fellow Republicans, Hispanics, Black Lives Matter, and Muslims. Just to name a few.
Conservative figures like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter blasted the post-2012 autopsy and said the party should focus on turning out the white vote instead of trying to make inroads with the aforementioned voting blocs. Their logic, I am using the term very loosely here, was that Romney, and McCain four years earlier, lost because they were not real conservatives and therefore caused many white voters to stay home. Play to the base, and not a bunch of people who will never support Republican candidates anyway, they said.
It is pretty clear which side won the argument. And this is how the party wound up nominating a candidate who is only appealing to the anger among white working class voters and is putting next to zero effort into reaching out beyond that base.
But do not expect the Coulter’s or Limbaugh’s of the world to admit their way was wrong, should Trump lose. They are already blaming establishment Republicans and/or rigged elections that are three months away for Trump’s defeat, should it happen.
So the question is, will the leaders of the Republican base let the party moderate even a little bit?
Even if they don’t, will the party leadership just go ahead and moderate anyway, knowing the hardcore base is older, shrinking, and dying off?
Losses in 2008 and 2012 ginned up so much anger among the GOP electorate that it led to the the rise of the Tea Party and then to the nomination of Donald Trump. If they lose a third straight election, only this time to Hillary Clinton, who they arguably hate more than Obama; who knows what will happen within the party.
Despite their presidential issues, the party is in good shape on the state level. Republicans control 31 governorships and have control over 31 state legislatures. They have unified control (Republican Governor and State Legislature) in 23 states, compared to Democrats who have unified control in just seven states. But most of these gains came in midterm elections, where the electorate is much smaller, older, and whiter.
If they want to have any influence over policy, and the courts, on the national level, they cannot keep losing in presidential election years, where turnout is more representative of the country’s population as a whole. And they certainly cannot throw away an election like 2016, that should be theirs for the taking.
This country needs a strong, functional, and rational center-right party to challenge the views and ideas of the left. Right now, despite their success on the state level, the GOP is not functioning at the national level because of a detrimental loyalty to a small, and loud base of voters who reward refusals to compromise on anything, denying science, and being stuck in the 1950s on a number of social issues.
Whether Republicans decide to branch out from said base will be the biggest question asked of them should their nominee go down in what looks like an inevitable defeat in 80 short days.
Typically, once people vote for a specific party in their first couple of elections, they stay with that party for the rest of their lives. If Republicans want to make serious inroads with the rising, and future, electorate of the country, and not be shut out of the White House they way Democrats were in the mid-to-late 20th Century, they need to start making changes soon. They are running out of time.