As it stands, the Republican nominee for president in the last eight presidential elections has only won the national popular vote once, a feat accomplished in 2004 when George W. Bush defeated John Kerry by just over three million votes.
In the other seven elections, the Democratic candidates won the popular vote, typically by large margins. Obviously, this is a problem for a party that defends the Electoral College, often asks for a mandate to conserve their values, and requires majorities in both houses of Congress in order to get anything done in a polarized era.
These same conservatives often point to their performance in low turnout midterm elections throughout the past decade, as well as their ability to cling to the Senate, as a sign that their party’s ideas are the dominant force in American politics.
However, they ignore the fact that each state is given an equal distribution of Senate seats. Wyoming, a state with just over 500,000 citizens, has an equal number of senators to California, despite having a population roughly 80x smaller. California is one of America’s most liberal states, Wyoming is America’s smallest and most conservative state. In essence, Republicans aren’t winning that many votes as a whole.
Republicans suffer in just about every voting demographic besides rural and white voters. Cities are a long way from coming back into the Republican column and despite President Trump winning more minority voters than other Republicans in recent history, we still trail the Democrats as a whole with non-white voters.
How can you celebrate winning 12% of black voters? That’s a serious question. What is it about Republican policies, politicians, and vision for America that divides the electorate so clearly?
With states soon to flip into Democratic grasp, is it time for a Republican reset?
Let’s talk about it.
The Republicans Can’t Keep Losing the Popular Vote
While I support the Electoral College vehemently and wish to preserve it as one of the powerful institutions that our Founding Fathers ingeniously created. The argument becomes very difficult to make when your candidates continue to win and still lose the national vote.
It’s happened twice in the last 20 years. George W. Bush, while losing by 543,816 votes nationally, still won the Electoral College, 271–267, a margin close enough to enrage Democrats. Fast forward to 2016 and Donald Trump carries the College, 306–232, while losing the popular vote by almost three million, enraging Democrats even more, but this time, going far enough to call Trump illegitimate and fly the dark cloud of Russian collusion over his head for the majority of his presidency.
Even today, with Joe Biden defeating Donald Trump by over six million votes nationally and by a 306–232 margin in the College, the tide could have turned the other way just as easily. While all state elections haven’t been certified as of writing, if Donald Trump had won a combined total of roughly 66,000 votes across Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Nebraska’s 2nd District, he would have forced an electoral tie of 269–269. Effectively sending the election to state legislatures, which given that 26/50 states are Republican-controlled, he’d probably remain president.
To me, it’s concerning to think that you can lose the popular vote by six million, but ultimately win the election if you consolidate a few thousand votes across four states. (Yes, if you remove California, the margins are much closer, if not entirely flipped into the Republican’s favor, but that doesn’t make a Californian’s vote less important).
While this is not a rejection of the Electoral College, it is a cry for a new Republican strategy. One that wins elections decisively and is granted a mandate of governance along with their victory.
I won’t undercut the strength of Republican performance in midterm elections through the past decade either. Republicans won the House popular vote by 5.7% in 2014 and 6.8% in 2010. These were of course during President Obama’s eight years in office, going along with the American tradition of divided government, but they were wins nonetheless.
The issue with these victories was that they happen to come from low turnout elections. Millions of voters sit out of midterm elections. So much so, that even during the record turnout of the 2018 midterms (the highest midterm turnout since 1914 delivered an 8.6% popular vote victory to the Democrats), it fell well short of the high turnout we generally see during presidential elections.
This begs the question of whether Republicans can win when it all counts? Can they win when everything is on the line and America’s future sits on the brink? It provokes a larger question: Does the Republican Party fit enough voters under its umbrella to win national elections consistently moving forward?
It’s my belief that without restructuring party organization, moving closer to the center (specifically on social issues), and fixing its repugnant communication strategy (GOP marketing is abysmal), they’re going to continue falling short or just barely scraping by.
Neither outcome is favorable.
Republicans Control the Senate. But For How Long?
David Perdue will probably win the Georgia Senate runoff this January. Kelly Loeffler will likely prevail as well, which will hand a 52-seat majority to the Republicans for the next two years. This is good news for the party, as they’ll be able to have a word on what kind of legislation gets passed by the Democratic House and Biden’s administration (I should note that I do not want to see any sort of unnecessary obstruction. If there’s a bill that works for the American people, it needs to be passed, regardless of who came up with it).
Because of America’s common theme of divided government, Republicans will most likely hold the Senate in 2022 due to it being Biden’s first midterm and perhaps even take back the House. But once we get to 2024, we might hit a roadblock.
Without a distinct leader of the GOP, the values of the party are up in the air. With several factions that are soon to be more apparent than ever once President Trump is no longer the flag bearer, it will be a clash of ideologies within the party. I can assure you that Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy are not going to be the leaders of the Republican Party over the next four years, at least from a symbolic standpoint. We’re either going to have someone new who will become a clear frontrunner for 2024 or no one.
This divide could be caused by three factions: the neoconservatives (neocons for short), the populists (Trumpian populism specifically), and the RINOs (the moderate wing). Each faction has its pros and cons, but one thing is for certain: a divided Republican Party cannot win the White House in 2024. This means the Senate could be in jeopardy, if not already lost, and the odds of winning the House dwindles.
I’ll admit that in most cases, parties will almost always come back together after a heated primary season and large divisions, but it’s more than that at this point. The Republicans need an identity, post-Trump. They need to figure out how to win more minority voters, how to win back shares of urban areas, retain and win back suburbs, and most of all, win the popular vote. Defending the Electoral College will become a losing battle if another Republican wins without carrying the nation as a whole.
In order to protect the Senate, defend the Constitution as written, and continue to win in areas that keep us competitive. The GOP needs to change.
It Isn’t Going to Get Any Easier
Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater deployed the Southern strategy in the 1960s and the early 1970s in order to realign the Republican Party with Southern white voters by actively voicing support for Jim Crow laws and dismissing black voters.
In fairness, the Republican Party apologized for this act in 2005, when Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman formally sent his apology to the NAACP for exploiting racial polarization to win elections. On top of that, I don’t believe the Republican Party is a racist party, nor do I think America is a racist country. But there are disparities between black citizens and white citizens that need to be addressed and the GOP does a poor job of appealing to that. Not because of its recent accomplishments for the black community (platinum plan, historically low unemployment, opportunity zones), but because the ideals of the party are still too far right for them (it doesn’t help when you have a terrible communication strategy either).
So even though the GOP went out of their way in the 60s and 70s to win the South, they’ve had a shaky relationship with it over the last four presidential elections, and it’s not going to get any better.
For one, Donald Trump lost Georgia, Brian Kemp barely defeated Stacy Abrams in 2018, and we have a crucial Senate race that can tip the balance of the nation and the Republicans are only a slight favorite.
Does this not seem like an issue?
Furthermore, North Carolina already flipped blue once, in 2008, and its been close ever since. Virginia, once a bulwark of Southern and conservative ideals, is now almost as blue as New York (Trump received 41% of the vote in New York and 44% in Virginia in 2020). Finally, but certainly not least, Texas.
Texas was once the stereotype for Republicans. George W. Bush won Texas by 23% in 2004, John McCain by 11%, Romney by 16%, and Trump by 9% in 2016.
Now? Donald Trump carried the state by just 5.5%.
If that doesn’t strike fear in the hearts of every Republican in this country, then they’ve truly become out of touch.
To Trump’s credit, he was able to increase the number of votes he received by roughly 1.2 million from four years before. But the fact that the Democrats have closed the gap this much in Texas, along with flipping Georgia, Arizona, and winning the greater portion of the Rust Belt again. Are Republicans not getting the message? Are they not realizing that whatever strategy they’re using is just not working?
Sure, Trump is a flawed candidate, no matter how you slice or dice it, but let’s also note that Ted Cruz only beat Beto O’Rourke by 2.6% in 2018. Also, while John Cornyn may have beaten Mary Hegar by almost 10% in this past 2020 Senate race, it doesn’t mean that a higher profile race with more Democratic funding and a strong candidate couldn’t turn the seat blue for the first time since Bob Krueger in 1993.
Let’s face it. Republicans are losing their grip on Texas. And, when it goes, they have virtually no path to victory, let alone a popular vote victory.
This article was meant to update you on the state of affairs when it comes to the GOP’s electoral strategy and the challenges the party faces in the near future. While it has a negative outlook, the point is to make Republicans aware of what we’re they’re up against so that we’re they aren’t blindsided when things get worse.
Instead, Republicans should take action now and start changing the party for the better. I believe the first step in the right direction is through social issues and moving more towards the center. It would help mend troubles connecting with young and minority voters, both of which will help Republicans secure the future.
The “Old” in the GOP is withering. It’s time to revamp the party and build on fiscal conservatism with more stimulus and a blend of centrist social policy.
Let me know what you think!