Our new book is titled Divided We Stand: The 2020 Elections and American Politics. Among other things, it discusses the state of the parties.
In theory, political parties are principally focused on winning elections, since that is how they gain power to implement their agendas. So why aren’t these activists and elected officials changing gears out of sheer self-preservation? One reason is that they are doing pretty well electorally without such changes. (More on that in a bit.)
But just as importantly, many of the key people and institutions in the Republican Party might prefer a risky and often-losing strategy to one that would really increase their chances of electoral victories. The path to Republicans becoming a majority party in America probably involves the GOP embracing cultural and demographic changes and pushing a more populist economic agenda that is less focused on tax cuts for the wealthy. But some of the most powerful blocs in the GOP are big donors who favor tax cuts, conservative Christian activists who are wary of expanding LGBTQ rights and an “own the libs” bloc exemplified by many Fox News personalities and elected officials such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who are very critical of immigration and the Black Lives Matter movement. The big donors and conservative Christian activists have policy goals that are fairly unpopular but that they are deeply committed to (such as overturning Roe v. Wade) — so they aren’t going to bend for electoral reasons. For the “own the libs” bloc, winning elections isn’t that important anyway — they aren’t really invested in policy or governing and will be fine if Republicans remain out of the White House and in the minority on Capitol Hill.
In short, the Republican Party has an activist base whose interests aren’t that compatible with pursuing a strategy that maximizes winning national elections.
This isn’t a new problem for Republicans. After their losses in both 2008 and 2012, Republicans talked a lot about changing the party, particularly doing more outreach to voters of color, in a way that the GOP has not in the wake of 2020. But that was mostly talk. Republicans didn’t make any real changes after either of those elections either, in part because the party’s base was very resistant.
“I don’t think the Republicans have any desire to assess their favored policies,” said Lawrence Glickman, a historian at Cornell University who studies the conservative movement in the United States.
In a recent column, former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele and ex-Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo wrote, “This crusade against voting rights lays bare the GOP’s greatest political liability: The party remains frozen in time, even as new demographic blocs have begun to gain power.”