The Demise of the Republican Party. Or Not.

by Brien Jackson

It’s true that articles like this, ruminating on the potential collapse of the Republican Party as a political entity, are probably a bit hyperbolic. It was, after all, a mere 4 years ago that people were making similar pronouncements about the Democratic Party. But then, that’s a bit simplistic too.

People tend to overestimate the electoral heights the Republican Party reached recently. Consider that in the wake of the so-called “Republican Revolution” of 1994, Bill Clinton was easily re-elected in 1996, and Congressional Republicans lost seats in both the House and the Senate in 1996, 1998, and 2000. After the 2000 elections, the Republicans had a single-digit majority in the House, a 50-50 Senate, and a Republican President who had gotten fewer votes than his Democratic opponent, and very possibly might have lost the electoral college if not for a fortuitous Supreme Court ruling.  Not exactly the picture of a political behemoth.

The immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks changed this for a time, of course, and Republicans made big gains in 2002, and then against scored gains in 2004, as well as seeing George Bush re-elected. But when you delve down into the muck of things a bit, 2004 in particular looks much less impressive. Most of the GOP’s gains in the House were made on the back of re-districting efforts, and the GOP’s margin of Senate gains was found in picking up vacated seats in Florida, Louisiana, and North Carolina, at least two of which may very well revert back to the Democratic side of the aisle after one term. And Bush won re-election with the lowest margin of popular votes ever won by a re-elected President. Also, for all the talk about how Democrats were a “national party no more,” the Congressional Democratic caucus was still pretty broadly dispersed. Even at their nadir, Democrats still boasted Senators from North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Iowa, Indiana, Florida, and Louisiana, as well as 2 Senators from both Arkansas and West Virginia. By contrast, today’s Republican Party has no Senators from the West Coast, a Senator in New Hampshire who is retiring after this term and will almost certainly be replaced by a Democrat, two Senators from Maine who are being actively encouraged to become Democrats by the party’s base, and no other Senators on the Eastern seaboard north of North Carolina. Today’s Senate Republican caucus has 5 fewer members than the Democratic caucus had after 2004, and will likely lose more in 2010. The GOP, in other words, is in worse shape than the Democratic Party ever was.

And, of course, the Republican Party is finding itself in a demographic trap with little relevant comparison. Republicans have little appeal to racial minorities, limited appeal to women, and are ncreasingly seen as actively hostile to non-Christians, urban/inner-suburb dwellers, and college educated voters. They are a largely white, male, Christian, rural party, in an age where white, Christian, rural dwelling males are a quickly shrinking portion of the electorate, and where a black man just won an electoral college victory that included victories in Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana even as Republicans kept a firm hold on the white vote and, especially, the white male vote. Younger voters are especially hostile to the GOP, as a consequence of their stances on cultural issues, particularly questions of gay rights, and as a result of the Presidency of George W. Bush.

So while it might be somewhat premature to wonder if the GOP is facing extinction, it’s not really fair to compare them to Democrats circa 2005. Indeed, they’re probably closer to oblivion than either major party has been since the turn of the 20th century.