The Republican Party Might Not Be Quite Dead Yet

| Fri Mar. 22, 2013 11:50 AM PDT

Andrew Kohut, former president of the Pew Research Center, says the Republican Party is in deep trouble:

In my decades of polling, I recall only one moment when a party had been driven as far from the center as the Republican Party has been today....The Republican Party’s ratings now stand at a 20-year low, with just 33 percent of the public holding a favorable view of the party and 58 percent judging it unfavorably.

....While members of the Republican and Democratic parties have become more conservative and liberal, respectively, a bloc of doctrinaire, across-the-board conservatives has become a dominant force on the right....The party’s base is increasingly dominated by a highly energized bloc of voters with extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues.

....I see little reason to believe that the staunch conservative bloc will wither away or splinter; it will remain a dominant force in the GOP and on the national stage. At the same time, however, I see no indication that its ideas about policy, governance and social issues will gain new adherents. They are far beyond the mainstream.

Any Republican efforts at reinvention face this dilemma: While staunch conservatives help keep GOP lawmakers in office, they also help keep the party out of the White House. Quite simply, the Republican Party has to appeal to a broader cross section of the electorate to succeed in presidential elections.

This has practically reached the status of conventional wisdom these days. Republicans are doomed because they don't appeal to the young, or to Hispanics, or to women, or whatever. Their core base of pissed-off white guys is shrinking, and they're inevitably going to shrink along with it. 

That makes sense to me. And yet....there's something about it that doesn't quite add up. Republicans control the House, and no one seems to think that's going to change in the near future. (And no, it's not just because of gerrymandering.) On the other side of Capitol Hill, Democrats seem genuinely concerned about holding onto the Senate next year. As for the White House, Republicans have only lost two presidential elections in a row, both times in years where the fundamentals favored Democrats. And they continue to hold outsize majorities in state legislatures and governor's mansions.

These don't seem like the markers of a party so far outside the mainstream that they're doomed to extinction. Frankly, they seem to be holding on fairly well.

I agree that the Republican Party has some long-term demographic problems that are pretty serious. Nevertheless, it's not clear to me that the American public is ready to throw them overboard. Or, perhaps more accurately, the American public has so far shown little inclination to throw them overboard when their only alternative is the Democratic Party.

This stuff deserves a little deeper look than we've been giving it. The GOP has been steadily moving right for more than 30 years now, and even though it always seems like one more step should make them electorally toxic once and for all, it never does. This time we're convinced once again that they've finally taken that final, fatal step, but have they? I feel like there's more to this story.

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