Capitol building
Credit: Daniel Huizinga/Flickr

Since the election of Donald Trump, it has been fairly common to draw parallels with what happened in California after the passage of anti-immigrant Proposition 187 with the full support of Republican Governor Pete Wilson. It is true that since then, the GOP has been in steady decline in that state, with the 2018 midterm elections providing what might be the final blow.

In the wake of a near-political annihilation in California that has left even longtime conservative stronghold Orange County bereft of a single Republican in the House of Representatives, a growing chorus of GOP loyalists here say there’s only one hope for reviving the flatlining party: Blow it up and start again from scratch.

That harsh assessment comes as Republicans survey the damage from the devastation of a “blue tsunami” in California which wiped out five GOP-held House seats — with more still threatened — while handing every statewide seat and a supermajority to the Democrats in both houses of the state legislature this week…

“I believe that the party has to die before it can be rebuilt. And by die — I mean, completely decimated. And I think Tuesday night was a big step,’’ says veteran California GOP political consultant Mike Madrid. “There is no message. There is no messenger. There is no money. And there is no infrastructure.”

To the extent that the demise of the Republican Party in California began with the passage of Proposition 187 twenty-four years ago, we see another demonstration of the fact that political realignment doesn’t happen overnight.

The question is whether or not California is a bellwether for the GOP in the rest of the country. There are those who are weighing in with the affirmative, as my colleague Martin Longman did recently when he wrote that the party is in the midst of a death spiral. Stan Greenberg lists four reasons why data from the recent midterms demonstrate that Trump and the Republican Party are losing their grip on voters.

First of all, Democrats did not win simply because white women with college degrees rebelled against Mr. Trump’s misogyny, sexism and disrespect for women. Nearly every category of women rebelled…

Second…Democrats got their wave in part because a significant portion of male and female white working class voters abandoned Mr. Trump and his Republican allies…

Third, Democrats made big gains because Mr. Trump declared war on immigrants — and on multicultural America — and lost…

Fourth, Democrats could not have picked up as many House seats as they did in 2018 without raising their share of the vote by four points in the suburbs, which have grown to encompass 50 percent of voters.

As a contributing factor, Jennifer Rubin is right to suggest that Republicans have no policy agenda.

Tax cuts for the rich, entitlement cuts and insistence on “small government” were, by 2016, the unpopular views that allowed an ideological heretic such as Trump to take over the party. Once in office, he has reverted to tax cuts for the rich, tried to take away Obamacare and run up a huge debt. Cronyism and corruption are rampant. What’s popular about that? Not much, voters are telling Republicans. Right now, the right is an intellectual wasteland where good policy goes to die — killed off by economic illiteracy on trade and immigration, denial of science and lack of interest in investing in workers (e.g., education, worker training).

Rubin goes on to write that the only thing holding the Republican Party together right now is a good economy. She might be right about that on some level, but as we saw in the midterms, the GOP abandoned all of that talk in favor of shoring up their base with racist fear mongering. In the end, that is all the party has left.

Back in 2009 Republicans faced a critical choice after the election of Barack Obama. His win came on the heels of a colossal failure of the party’s agenda under George W. Bush. The country was mired in Middle Eastern wars that decimated their interventionist foreign policy and was careening towards another Great Depression as a result of their domestic agenda.

The choice Republicans faced was whether to double down on their failed policies or rethink their entire agenda. We all know what they decided to do. GOP leaders made the choice to simply obstruct anything and everything Obama and the Democrats attempted to do. In order to gin up their base to provide cover for their obstruction, they fanned the flames of racism against the first African-American president and paved the way for birther Donald Trump to emerge as their standard bearer.

As Greenberg points out, that approach is causing Republicans to lose support among a majority of Americans. But Zachary Roth presciently noted back in 2016 that the party’s leaders have a plan for handling that reality: they’ve decided that “being outnumbered doesn’t have to mean losing.” In other words, anti-democratic strategies like voter suppression and gerrymandering were adopted in response. I expect that as the Republican base shrinks into an even smaller minority, the party will simply ramp up those strategies.

That is precisely why, even as Democrats have a lot of policy issues on their plates, nothing will be more important over the next two years than combating these attempts to undermine democracy. We’re witnessing a signal from House Democrats to do so with their first bill next year focusing on election reform. But that won’t succeed unless and until the party wins back the presidency and a majority in the Senate.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder has joined forces with former President Obama to tackle the issue of gerrymandering with the formation of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee in preparation for that process following the 2020 census. After the midterm elections, the group points out that Democrats have “broken up trifecta control in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Virginia, as well as Maine” since the 2011 redistricting process.

When it comes to voter suppression, you might have noticed that Friday night Stacey Abrams acknowledged that Brian Kemp will be Georgia’s next governor, but she refused to concede.

Pundits and hyper-partisans will hear my words as a rejection of the normal order. You see…I’m supposed to say nice things and accept my fate. They will complain that I should not use this moment to re-cap what was done wrong or to demand a remedy. As a leader, I should be stoic in my outrage and silent in my rebuke. But stoicism is a luxury and silence is a weapon for those who would quiet the voices of the people. I will not concede because the erosion of our democracy is not right…

Today I announce the launch of Fair Fight Georgia, an operation that will pursue accountability in Georgia’s elections and integrity in the process of maintaining our voting rolls. In the coming days, we will be filing a major federal law suit against the state of Georgia for the gross mismanagement of this election and to protect future elections from unconstitutional actions. We will channel the work of the last few weeks into a strong legal demand for reforms of our election systems in Georgia.

Abrams was right when she predicted the reaction of partisans. But contrary to what they’re suggesting, this was a selfless act on her part. She took her own race off the table and will, instead, file a federal law suit “alleging mismanagement and malfeasance at nearly every level of Georgia’s electoral process.” That will make Georgia ground zero in the fight against voter suppression.

To sum up, while it’s true that Republicans are in a death spiral, the party that has nothing but xenophobia to offer the county is certainly not going to go down without a fight. Doug Muder was absolutely right to compare them to the confederacy.

The essence of the Confederate worldview is that the democratic process cannot legitimately change the established social order, and so all forms of legal and illegal resistance are justified when it tries…

The Confederate sees a divinely ordained way things are supposed to be, and defends it at all costs. No process, no matter how orderly or democratic, can justify fundamental change.

With that as the mindset, we are going to see an intensification of anti-democratic strategies as the minority party attempts to hold on to power. That puts efforts like those being undertaken by Eric Holder and Stacey Abrams at the forefront of the battle to save our democracy. So I’d suggest that you keep an eye on those two.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.