Has the GOP Given up on Democracy?

Exploring the GOP's current strategy to staying relevant

Democracy should mean a government that expresses the will of the people, so it frequently puzzles me why the GOP supports attacks on the voting process and cultivates the allegiance of conspiracy theorists and anarchists. After some research, I discovered how the curious actions of many GOP elected representatives make sense —in a way.

Holding Trump Should be a Losing Hand

In another post, I have opined that the GOP’s best move was to dump Trump and the Big Lie, which are dead ends. The reasoning goes that while Trump is popular, he is not popular enough.

Sure, recent polls show that a large number of Republican voters believe the election was stolen from Trump, and Republicans would vote to re-elect him. Further, in past years going against Trump was potentially hazardous in the primaries. On the other hand,

  • He is a one-term president who never had more than 47% of the vote, and his popularity ratings are the worst of presidents on record.

  • He tried to overturn a fair election result and incited a mob that attacked the US Capitol. The Senate Majority Leader at the time, Mitch McConnell, said Republican leader, declared that Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the attack, and his actions were “a disgraceful dereliction of duty.”

  • He arguably caused the loss of two Republican Senate seats in Georgia, showing that his influence can also be damaging to the Republican cause.

  • A majority (58% of voters) thought Trump should have been convicted in his second impeachment trial.

These factors cast doubt on whether Trump’s influence is really big enough to win elections. As New York Times writer David Leonhardt states,

A party focused on rebuilding a national majority probably could not stay tethered to Trump.

Yet, the GOP continues to court Trump and Trump’s voters.

The Root of the Problem

The key insight is that—contrary to what might seem common sense in traditional democratic politics—the GOP is not so concerned with the will of the majority. As Mr. Leonhardt contends,

Today’s Republican Party is less concerned with national public opinion than it used to be— or than today’s Democratic Party is.

The reason the GOP is not concerned with the majority opinion is that the number of Republican voters has been decreasing and is expected to continue decreasing due to demographics that the GOP cannot control. Whereas in 1994, when the two parties were approximately balanced at 43% each, by 2018, voters who leaned toward the Democrats were 48% compared to the Republican’s 39%, as indicated by the red line on the following graphic.

Consequently, the GOP has only won the popular vote in the presidential election once since 1988, as shown below.

As a recent Brookings report summarizes:

The underlying demographic changes our country is likely to experience over the next several elections generally favor the Democratic party. The projected growth of groups by race, age, education, gender and state tends to be more robust among Democratic-leaning groups, creating a consistent and growing headwind for the Republican party.

So what’s the GOP party to do?

The GOP Strategy to Stay in Power

Given the situation, the GOP has shifted its strategy to stay in power. Here are the ways they are doing it:

  • Energize their base through fear. Since what really matters is not how many people in the country support you but instead how many of them actually go to the polls, the GOP has to mobilize a greater percentage of their voters to the polls. So, while the majority of Americans wanted to convict Trump, 85% of Republicans did not. This is because the GOP and the right-wing media system energize the voters and their viewer base by propagating fear. They make it an “us vs them” situation by falsely saying Democrats are making the country socialist, immigrants taking their jobs, and Democrats want to take away their freedoms. They claim the election system is rigged against Republicans and that Democrats hate America. As a result, enraged and terrified people flock to the polls for them—all largely based on lies and exaggerations fed to them by the GOP.

  • Hold on to the U.S. Senate. Just mobilizing the base is probably not enough. So, the GOP really needs to hold on to the U.S. Senate, where they have the advantage because there is more parity in Republican vs Democratic states versus a sheer number of voters. Plus, as shown repeatedly during the Trump administration, the U.S. Senate can be quite powerful in blocking legislation and impeachments of corrupt presidents as well as getting conservative justices on the Supreme Court.

  • Controlling state legislatures. By controlling state legislatures, the GOP can gerrymander districts to make them more favorable to them. Of, course both parties gerrymander, but the GOP does it more aggressively. Further, they are using their power in state legislatures to change the voting rules to favor them. The most famous case recently was Georgia, but other states dominated by Republicans are doing the same thing.

Thus, the GOP concern is clearly expressed by Lindsay Graham as follows:

Mitch McConnell [Senate Majority Leader] and I need to come up with an oversight of mail-in balloting. If we don't do something about voting by mail, we are going to lose the ability to elect a Republican in this country.

Notice that Mr. Graham’s argument about mail-in voting has nothing to do with fairness or counting every vote. He is concerned that mail-in voting favors getting out the Democrat vote. But is this how democracy should work, by jockeying over laws and rules to cull favor to one party? It really just makes it an exercise of power rather than the will of the people. In short, the GOP is willing to undermine democracy to stay in power and push its agenda. We have to ask ourselves if this can be allowed and what should be done about it.