What’s next for the Republican Party?
November 2012 was a month of reckoning for the Republican Party. It lost the presidential election by 126 electoral votes and 5 million ballots cast (or 3.9 percent of the vote), according to the Huffington Post. Republicans lost more ground in the Senate, with Democrats gaining two seats and beating the GOP in North Dakota, Montana, Indiana and Missouri, where Republicans won the presidential election easily. Republicans kept the House, but with a reduced majority. This has allowed Democrats to pass more liberal legislation such as Hurricane Sandy relief and the American Taxpayer Relief Act, which averted the fiscal cliff. An early January Gallup poll shows that the Democrats have regained a lead in party affiliation, with 47 percent of Americans identifying as or leaning towards Democrats and only 42 percent of Americans doing the same for Republicans.
Looking ahead to 2016, the Republicans are already stuck in the mire. Public Policy Polling (PPP), one of the most accurate polling groups during the 2012 election, has been polling on the Democratic and Republican nominations as well as the general election, and the PPP poll shows that Republicans are split on their ticket with 22 percent support for Marco Rubio, 15 percent for Paul Ryan, 13 percent for Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, and 10 percent for Rand Paul. Democrats show overwhelming support for Hillary Clinton, and, if she chooses not to run, there is backing behind Joe Biden as well. To make matters worse, Clinton polls 49/41 over Rubio, 49/43 over Ryan, 50/44 over Bush, and 46/42 over Christie. Biden also polls highly with a 5 percentage point lead over Rubio, 4 points over Ryan, and 3 points over Bush.
This presidential polling does not present a good scenario for Republicans to take the White House in 2016, and, while unpredictable events often wreak havoc with elections, the overall trend is bad for the GOP. Presidents Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan are the only presidents since 1964 to win a popular majority in two elections, and Mitt Romney did not win a single vote in 91 precincts in New York and 59 in Philadelphia (and lost in 11 more of the nation’s 15 largest cities).
Another PPP poll shows that Clinton could win Texas in 2016, becoming the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter to do so. She has a 50 percent favorable rating in the state, 72 percent support among moderates, and leads Marco Rubio 46/45, Chris Christie 45/43, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry 50/42. According to a New Republic article by Sam Tanenhaus, “Remove Texas from the vast, lightly populated Republican expanse west of the Mississippi, and … the GOP could find itself unable to count on a single state that has as many as 20 electoral votes.”
2014 midterm election polling in the Senate does not bode well for the GOP. In Alaska, Democratic Sen. Mark Begich is on the path toward a 2014 re-election in the state that brought Sarah Palin to the forefront. Potential Democratic candidates are ahead of Republicans in Iowa by about 10 points, and Sen. Mark Warner leads the most popular Virginia Republican by 10 points. Al Franken is secure in his Minnesota Senate seat, even though he won by only 312 votes in a drawn out 2008 election battle. Even in Romney-supporting North Carolina, Democrat Kay Hagan is ahead of all potential Republican candidates by at least 6 percent, and, in liberal Maine, incumbent Republican Susan Collins is the only Republican who could win in 2014, and she may retire.
Polling data of Americans shows that the Republican positions on major current issues are unpopular.
On guns, 51 percent of Americans support a new assault weapons ban, 53 percent support passing stricter gun laws, and 39 percent say a National Rifle Association endorsement would make them less likely to vote for a candidate – compared to 26 percent saying more likely – according to PPP polling. In the face of public opinion, the GOP still opposes an assault weapons ban, opposes stricter gun laws (focusing on video games instead), and vehemently supports the NRA.
On immigration, 64 percent of those polled in a PPP poll support offering illegal immigrants a chance to apply for legal citizenship, while 27 percent believe illegal immigrants should be deported to their home country. A Gallup poll shows that 85 percent of Americans support a citizenship verification program for new hires, 72 percent support some form of amnesty and 74 percent want to increase visas for legal immigrants skilled in science and technology. The Republicans have been more open to immigration reform, putting forth a plan by Rubio and a bipartisan Gang of Eight proposal.
Another recent Gallup poll, titled “Democrats Racially Diverse; Republicans Mostly White,” showed that 89 percent of the Republican Party is made up of white Americans. In a changing society where racial diversity, gender equity and equal rights for those of all sexual orientations are becoming more important, the GOP is stuck in the past. Low Hispanic support for Romney led to his defeat, while the gender gap was bigger than ever. Only 5 percent of African-Americans, 13 percent of Hispanics and 17 percent of Asians identify as Republicans. In addition, Obama now supports full and equal rights for the LGBT community in the U.S., which gave him historic support. Demographics are moving away from a majority-white nation, becoming a majority-minority nation by 2043, according to The New York Times. Now, heading into his second term at full steam, Obama has his highest approval rating since 2009 at 60 percent and intends to lead on a variety of national issues from guns and immigration to jobs and the deficit.
With a strong Democratic Party poised to get stronger in 2014 and throughout the remainder of Obama’s second term, the Republicans seem to be caught in a conundrum. Trapped between the leftward swing of the electorate and radicalization of the right-wing, Republicans cannot propose the reasonable, centrist solutions of the past. Unless the party breaks the yoke of conservative radicalism, they will long for the days of George W. Bush.
That does not even account for the fact that the GOP may have to face a Clinton, albeit a different Clinton, in 2016. Hillary’s favorable rating? According to Quinnipiac, it’s 61 percent.
Zac Bears is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.