Party wrecker

30. He has driven the final nail into the coffin of our two-party system

The Republican Party is dying. Hold your applause, please: it’s not quietly slinking off into a corner and expiring peacefully. It’s thrashing and writhing and in its death throes causing irreversible damage to the bipartisan system that has served us, for better or worse, for many generations. It is unclear what will replace it, but that is a topic for a different, longer post. Suffice it to say that there is no roadmap for where we’re heading.

DT is not to blame for the demise of the GOP per se, but he’s accelerating it. We’ll get back to that shortly, but first let’s look at some recent history. The once proud party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt and Eisenhower has been declining for years. The numbers don’t lie, and they plainly show that the party has been commanding a decreasing share of registered voters over the last several election cycles and that the average age of registered Republicans has been slowly but steadily rising. In the absence of extraordinary measures, the GOP would soon be close to irrelevant on the national level.

Republican leaders heard the alarm bells long ago and began a far-reaching, albeit scattershot, effort to reverse the trend. Unable to excite younger voters in the 21st century with a decidedly stale platform largely consisting of alarmism on social issues and advocacy for smaller government, they more or less gave up the idea of winning on the issues and opted instead to try to manipulate the election process. This they did through blatantly unethical means, including gerrymandering and an array of underhanded tactics designed to suppress the Democratic vote. For the most part, that effort has been enormously successful, allowing a party that’s in decline to capture an increasing number of governorships and state legislatures, as well as a disproportionate number of seats in the House of Representatives. Those methods, together with our antiquated system that allots an equal number of senators to each state regardless of population, meant they were able to seize control of the Senate as well. And because the Electoral College is based on the same antiquated system, they’ve been able to hold the White House 60% of the time during the past 20 years. That figure is the same as it was during the preceding 20 years, even though there are proportionately fewer Republican voters now. Still, with the rank and file continuing to shrink, the leadership was growing increasingly worried and their maneuvers to manipulate the vote growing more and more desperate. By the time the presidential race got underway in 2015, they were looking for a miracle.

Onto this scene rode DT like the antihero in a B-grade western movie, taking no prisoners and brooking no dissent. After some months of consternation—the man some looked to as a savior inconveniently was a lying scoundrel who scoffed at both Republican ideology and American political norms—the GOP leadership decided to ignore his flaws and rally around him. After all, he was bringing in new blood; people who hadn’t voted for years were turning up at his rallies by the thousands. So they closed ranks around him, ostracizing any naysayer who dared suggest that perhaps this savior was a dangerous demagogue who would hurt both party and country in the long run.

Four years later, the country is in shambles. DT’s dismissive response to the worst pandemic in a century has turned into a public health nightmare, the economy is in tatters, and civil unrest on a scale not seen in more than half a century is erupting from coast to coast. The Republicans remain ostensibly unified, but the country is more divided than ever. Trust in government is at an all-time low; the president, now sick with the same illness he downplayed all year, has sunk in the polls; and the upcoming Senate election, which should have been a cakewalk, is looking more and more like it will be a rout for the Democrats. If the 2020 election brings regime change to Washington, as well it should, Joe Biden will be faced with a series of Herculean tasks, which he will cheerfully undertake, and slowly the country will emerge from the darkness. The remaining Republicans on the Hill, their savior deposed, will be faced with the choice of either helping put things back on track or trying to hinder the recovery. In choosing the former path, they will be seen as collaborating with the Democrats and risk alienating their much of their base, which under DT’s obnoxious tutelage has become accustomed to a level of hyper-partisanship they’ll find difficult to set aside. If they choose the latter, they’ll be branded as obstructionists. It will be a no-win situation for them, and their party will suffer further.

When times were better and life was relatively normal, Republicans could get away with all manner of mischief. In a time of crisis, with lives and livelihoods on the line, their perverse inclination towards an anti-science, anti-tolerance, and anti-democratic agenda is hugely detrimental to the nation they pretend to serve. This will hasten the collapse of their party. When that happens there will be plenty of blame to go around, but DT will be judged the catalyst.

Who mourns the GOP?

Once upon a time, the Republican Party had a “big tent” that even included politicos with decidedly progressive bents. By the mid-1990s, all of those were put out to pasture. Then followed a purge of centrists that was expanded to include moderately right-wing members of Congress. By 2016, there were only a small handful of national- or state-level Republicans who weren’t right-wing extremists.

Bipartisan cooperation brought many all-important benefits to the U.S. Victory in World War II, passage of the Social Security and Voting Rights acts, and removal from office of the second-most corrupt president in history, Richard Nixon, just to name a few. Bipartisanship gives immediate legitimacy to various acts and initiatives. It demonstrates to voters and to the world at large that the U.S. can be united in more than name, working in tandem toward common goals for the good of everyone, and it also helps keep individual politicians honest by making it harder to hide behind party affiliation on important votes. If the GOP does collapse completely, it may cause a ripple effect that dooms the Democratic Party, too. That would be one more thing to blame DT for.

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