Week of February 23, 2021

The Future of the Republican Party


“The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)

This famous quote by American humorist Samuel Clemens could apply equally to the Republican Party.  While reports circulated about the death of the GOP as Trump left Washington and talked about running for president again, the party of Lincoln still had a lot of life in it.

The fact was that the Republican Party did well in November, except for the Senate (which experts predicted would go Democratic instead of being tied) and the presidency.

Republicans seriously narrowed the Democratic margin in the House.  According to the Associated Press on January 22nd, Democrats control only 222 seats, just four seats above the 218 seats needed to have a majority.  That means if midterm elections follow history and the party in power loses seats, the House of Representatives will be Republican in two years.

According to the Cook Political Report, at the state level, Republicans did well, which gives them control of the redistricting and gives them a better chance to win more House seats in 2022.  This was despite the hundreds of millions spent by Democrats to gain a bigger foothold in the states.

While Delaware, Washington, and North Carolina elected Democrat governors; Indiana, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia went Republican. Montana switched from Democrat to Republican with the result that Republicans control 27 of 50 governorships.  The Montana win also gives Republicans total control of Montana, since Republicans already control the state legislature.

The New Hampshire State Senate and State Legislature flipped to Republican after going Democratic in 2018.  With its new Republican governor Sununu, it means New Hampshire is now in GOP hands,

It appears currently, of the 99 state legislative bodies in the US (Nebraska has only one legislative body), that the Republican Party controls 62 legislative bodies, while the Democrats now control 37 (a loss of two by the Democrats).  Republicans also gained in seats held in several states.  In heavily Democratic Maine, the GOP gained six seats in the state legislature.

In Iowa, Republicans expanded their majority control of their legislature.  Republicans in Pennsylvania gained seats in both the legislature and state senate.  North Carolina saw the GOP retain control of both state senate and legislature.

In Texas, Democrats gained only one senate seat.  Both legislative chambers remain Republican, as well as the Texas governorship.

This is hardly the record of a party in decline.  However, it does show a change that may predict future Republican and Democratic gains and losses.

For decades, the criticism of the Republican Party was that they were too focused on the presidency.  While Republicans did well in winning the White House in the post ww2 period, they had no control over the Supreme Court, Senate, most states, and House, which remained Democratic for decades.

This has changed.  The Republicans control most of state governors and legislatures but are at a disadvantage at the federal level.  The reality today is that the Republicans control the states, while the Democrats control the federal government in Washington.

This dichotomy explains much.  While Trump is disliked by many (including some Republicans) in Washington DC, he remains popular with many Republicans outside of Washington.

Some in the Republican Party discovered this in the past few weeks.  Liz Cheney, the Republican Representative from Wyoming voted to impeach Trump for the events on January 6th, only to be censured by Republicans in Wyoming.  Ironically, this censure was of the third ranking Republican in the House and a woman who was a rising star in the Republican Party.

At this time, 107 Republican congressmen (many of the Republicans in the House) have indicated that they support removing her from the leadership role for her impeachment vote.

Cheney is not the only one to face censure back home.  Senate Minority Leader Senator McConnell has also been censured by Republicans back in Kentucky for his comments about Trump and impeachment.

Since Trump remains popular with many Republicans, any senator supporting Trump’s conviction could be risking their Senate career.  Given that and the serious constitutional issues surrounding the impeachment and conviction of a former president, it is unlikely that the Senate will vote to convict or that the courts will uphold the conviction as constitutional.  In fact, with legislation like the stimulus bill awaiting an impeachment trial in the Senate, voters (who are not in favor of impeachment and want Congress to address real problems) will punish senators for taking time for this endeavor.

The reality is that Trump is unlikely to run for president again.  He is currently 74 and will be 78 when the next presidential election is held – the same age as Biden when he took the oath of office.  Since there were many criticisms of Biden over his age and mental capacity, a 2024 Trump presidential campaign would run into the same problems.  In fact, Democrats will likely remind voters of Trump’s comments on Biden’s age and mental health.

Trump is more likely to play to his strengths – money and organizing.  He has already indicated that he wants to campaign for clean elections and provide support for Republicans who back his agenda.  He is also expected to raise money for Republican candidates by speaking at local events.

With Trump’s loss, there are many who are looking towards the 2024 presidential election.  However, those who criticized Trump over the last four years like Romney are unlikely to find it an easy road.  Voters will remember those candidates who opposed their president.

However, there are some potential candidates who are already making a name for themselves.  In Senate confirmation hearings, two Republican Senators have made it clear that they will take a leading role in opposing the Democrats and their agenda.  They are Senator Cruz (Texas) and Senator Paul (Kentucky).  Although they did have differences with Trump over the past four years, they were generally supportive of his agenda.

Senator Ted Cruz ran for president in 2016 and was the last major candidate to drop out after it became clear that Trump would win the nomination.  He is eloquent and a strong conservative who has the backing of many grassroots Republican organizations.

Senator Rand Paul is an outspoken senator with libertarian leanings.  His father is former Congressman Ron Paul, who ran for president in 2012.  Although he disagreed with Trump on the deployment of US troops in the Middle East, like Trump, he favors small government.

While the 2024 presidential election will impact events, it is the 2022 election and the future of the “nullification” movement that will have the biggest impact in the near term.

As mentioned earlier, some candidates are already setting up their congressional campaigns.  Thanks to her vote for Trump’s impeachment, Liz Cheney is already being challenged in the Republican primary.  She will not be the only one to face competition from pro-Trump candidates.

The Nullification movement will also pick up as Biden reinstates many Obama era regulations.
Nullification is a principle that was frequently employed by southern states in the pre-Civil War era but died out after the war.  It says that each state can decide which federal rules to obey.

The principle gained life again in the 1990s when the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not impose rules on the state if they didn’t provide the necessary funding.  The ruling declared unconstitutional a law that forced states to impose additional rules on gun purchases.

Ironically, this principle was expanded by the Obama administration to stop states from enforcing federal laws on immigration.  The principle was also used extensively by Democratic states like California during the Trump Administration to ignore laws that would send undocumented immigrants back to their homes in other countries.

As the Biden Administration is expected to push legislation and regulation on gun rights, abortion, the environment, immigration, voting procedures, and economic regulation, we can expect states to refuse to enforce federal legislation.  Since the federal government does not have that many law enforcement officers and relies on local police to enforce federal laws, this is essentially the same as nullification.

The states have already started pushing back.  Texas is already suing the federal government to prevent them from ignoring immigration laws in Texas.  And, in a public defiance of Biden, governors of both Texas and Florida withdrew their National Guard units from the District of Columbia when it was discovered that they were expected to sleep in substandard accommodations like the marble floor of the halls of Congress and parking lots.

So, can the federal government impose its dictates on the states?  The federal government does not have enough law enforcement officers to do the job.  Nor can it use the National Guard since it is controlled by the governors.  The military is prohibited from law enforcement unless there is an insurrection and declaring an insurrection against Republican states is one way to guarantee an insurrection and the resulting civil war.  It will strengthen the position of legislatures that are considering secession.
In the end, although it appears that the GOP is in a weakened condition, it is much stronger than many of its opponents think.  While it is weakened in Washington, its strength lies in the states, where the concept of just ignoring Washington and its orders is gaining momentum.

While, the Democrats may control Washington and the federal government, they are projecting weakness.  Surrounding the Capitol and the inauguration with barbed wire and three divisions of military while swearing in a new president who is saddled with serious questions about his mental health projects weakness, not power.

This projection of weakness will continue as 7,000 troops are expected to be stationed until March (may be more) in the District of Columbia – a ratio of DC population to troops of 100 to 1, which according to International Institute of Strategic Studies is a higher civilian to military ratio than in China’s Central Theater Command, which protects Beijing.

In the end, Biden may choose to force his unpopular regulations and laws on the states only to find that the governors of Republican states like Florida and Texas have more power than he does.
Although it is too early to make a final judgment or prediction on the future status of the republican party and the emerging leadership after Trump, he may be still holding more influence until the 2022 mid-term election.