The GOP is in trouble, and it knows it. In 2016, Donald Trump stormed to the head of the crowded pack of GOP presidential hopefuls as conservatives watched in abject horror. Most establishment Republicans were left aghast by Trump. But what left them aghast even more was the demonstrable gap between what establishment Republicans thought the public wanted to hear and what the public actually wanted to hear. What the public wanted, it turns out, was a feral country club demagogue with the skin tone and IQ of a carrot.
Republicans didn’t know what hit them. But many of them saw what drew crowds and consequently jumped on the Trump train. Thus changed the GOP. Enter 2020.
Trump lost — and rather substantially. Trump’s self-described “landslide” in the electoral college was matched exactly by president-elect Joe Biden’s win. The message to the world was clear: Lady Liberty doesn’t like a bad boy after all. The message to the GOP was too: you’re a bunch of hopeless goons.
Trump’s base is strong, yes. But Trump’s base is not enough to win elections. Trump succeeded in 2016 in no small part because of the cocktail of liberal and centrist voter apathy blended with rightwing frisson. Trump got a lot of people who previously wouldn’t vote much or at all, especially low-information voters (read: people who think a “filibuster” is where they used to rent Adam Sandler DVDs in the early 2000s), to come out of the woodwork and vote for him. These same people saw former GOP presidential candidates like Mitt Romney and thought “Pass.” The GOP seems to only win if there’s low voter turnout or they have a nutjob like Trump “riling the base” to go out and vote.
What does this mean for the GOP? Nothing good. The GOP’s current base — white rural voters — is shrinking relative to more liberal parts of the country. Yes, this probably means the Electoral College will become more polarized and in some cases for the benefit of the GOP, but you must remember that as populations shrink in states, so do their number of electoral votes. What’s more, where do moderate Republicans have to go from here? As they watch the GOP putrefy, voting blue becomes more and more the obvious choice.
This means the GOP either chooses a demagogue like Trump to lead their party and thus gain the support of Trump’s base or go back to being like Mitt Romney and bore away the most vociferous of their voters. Best of luck, GOP.