From its beginnings after the 2008 election, the GOPLifer project was driven by foreboding. Republicans had, through a combination of denial and neglect, allowed dangerous forces to build. Absent some drastic intervention from the party’s sharper, braver minds, it seemed obvious that those forces would continue to gain energy and eventually blow the party apart.
Prediction was central to the blog’s mission. The entire project was an interpretation of an emerging future. If those projections failed to materialize, then perhaps the rest of the project’s assessments should be questioned. With that in mind it was necessary to constantly revisit old predictions as a weathervane for the future.
Reviewing old predictions one miserable pattern becomes clear. GOPLifer was wrong whenever it assumed the best about the party’s future and right about nearly everything else.
What GOPLifer got wrong can be boiled down to two words: Donald Trump. The reason is simple. I was right about the absolute loathing for Trump felt by nearly everyone in the party infrastructure. I was right that party leaders and grassroots organizers saw him as a catastrophic threat. I believed that prominent figures in the party possessed the courage and the influence to stop Trump and the alt-right from seizing control of the institution. That’s what I got wrong.
I never seriously considered the possibility that Paul Ryan would take the stage on national television to help Donald Trump steamroll opposition at the convention. It never occurred to me that a figure as prominent as Scott Walker would be so spineless as to back Trump. Across the better part of a decade my predictions about the party were largely on target until I placed some faith in the character of our leadership. The Republican Party as an institution is far weaker and sicker than I ever dared imagine. My predictions for the future of the party were consistently too conservative, too hedged.
What did the blog get right? For years I argued that the GOP was descending into a white nationalist party. The party’s growing appeal among lower income whites motivated by race was no surprise. I described it in the results from the 2012 election.
Before the first votes were cast in the 2012 Republican primaries I described what they meant for the 2016 race. The party had exhausted its supply of credible Presidential successors. The 2012 nominating field foretold a 2016 race which would be dominated by nutjobs. In the summer before the 2012 election, GOPLifer described the Republican demographic nightmare taking shape in polling data and historical trends.
In 2010, while the press was treating her as the Republican Presidential frontrunner, GOPLifer explained why Sarah Palin would never try to hold another elected office. For years I shouted that the Tea Party was nothing more than a vehicle for white racial fears. As such, the rise of the Tea Party was not a sign of renewed Republican energy, but a prelude to complete irrelevance.
When Republican leaders released their 2012 autopsy explaining the need for minority outreach, I explained why this goal would be very difficult to reach.
While Republicans crowed over the 2014 midterm results, GOPLifer identified the “death-cross” hiding in the data. Those results demonstrated that at the Presidential level, Republicans now faced a “Blue Wall” large enough to lock them out of competition for the White House for the indefinite future. I explained that Virginia and New Hampshire were now beyond reach for a Republican nominee. I also explained that Georgia was moving into play at the federal level. Also in 2014 I explained that Republicans had a 0% chance of holding the Senate beyond 2016.
Late in 2014 when Jeb Bush was assumed to be the Republican front-runner, GOPLifer explained why he was doomed. The blog explained that the 2016 nomination would belong to the guy who threw away the racist dogwhistle in favor of an explicit white nationalist (“Neo-Confederate) campaign. At that time, months before Donald Trump entered the race, that candidate was Ted Cruz. Cruz instead finished second to Trump.
Last summer I explained how the Trump’s campaign paralleled the collapse of the party’s most recent ancestor, the Whig’s. That combination of racism and regionalism is a political death spiral. Political parties can and do die.
With Trump came a series of GOPLifer miscalculations based on underestimating Republican cowardice. The blog identified the reasons why Republican criticism of Trump failed, but down to the wire I still overestimated the willingness of leaders to take a principled position against Trump at the convention.
What’s still ahead? Trump’s deficit will widen as we approach Election Day. Futility feeds a landslide. If he could get within five or six points uneasy Republicans might close ranks. That’s not going to happen. With no hope for victory, people who have voted Republican in the past will abandon ship in droves. Senate and Congressional races will be a bloodbath. Republicans will definitely lose the Senate, might lose the House, but will almost certainly avoid a super-minority (40 seats or less) in the Senate.
This is the end of the road for America’s second party. There is no force left with the influence or vision to restore some relevance to this coalition. At the state level across much the country the party remains dominant, but those state parties in places like Texas and Georgia have nothing to offer voters in the rest of the country. They are held together by nothing other than the paranoid delusions of aging (dying) white racists. Meanwhile a younger generation is emerging which is solidly hostile to the GOP, even in deep red states.
The future of the Republican Party is that there is no future. A Republican nominee for President in 2020 might enter the race in tight competition with third parties.
In retrospect, the blog managed to accurately diagnose the party’s condition and predict the consequences of our direction. Meanwhile, it utterly failed to steer the party away from calamities. It would have been nice to be a little less right and a lot more influential. In the end GOPLifer was a fine writing outlet and a political failure.