I’ve often said that our two major political parties are like vehicles that can carry any kind of passengers. Because of structural advantages they enjoy, it’s not likely that either of them will simply pass out of existence like the Whigs. Rather, the parties will evolve together, with each attempting to bounce back from losses by devising new strategies to win voters from the other side. Over time, they can become complete inversions of their former selves, as we see today with a solid Democratic south replaced by a solid Republican South, the formerly rock-ribbed Republican suburbs now the fulcrum of the Democrat Party’s electoral fortunes, and the formally bright blue coal fields of Kentucky and West Virginia as ruby red as any part of the country.
The Republican Party’s vehicle began dropping off progressives and liberals and picking up conservatives in the early to mid 20th century. At this point, everyone on board is a conservative of one stripe or another. But the conservative movement was really birthed in response to two Democratic movements: the New Deal and the Great Society/Civil Rights era. There will come a time when the Republican vehicle gets tired of losing and decides to start dropping off conservatives and picking up other kinds of people.
For now, that has not happened. We’ve seen a few Republicans ask to get off on their own accord and some others get kicked to the curb, but this has only resulted in fewer passengers because the only folks invited to replace those who have departed are white nationalists. The conservative movement does not want to change.
Republican strategists like Karl Rove recognize that a Republican vehicle carrying only conservatives will not continue to have the same kinds of successes the party has enjoyed over the last forty years.
“The 2018 election should have been a wake-up call for a Republican Party in Texas that has become too complacent,” said Karl Rove, the former adviser to George W. Bush, who built a multiracial coalition in his time as Texas governor. Mr. Rove urged Republicans to recognize that the state and country “are becoming more diverse and we need to reflect that.”
The conservative movement isn’t capable of reflecting diversity except through tokenism. They exist to preserve the position and privileges that wealthy whites have always enjoyed in this country. So, Rove is not addressing conservatives with those remarks. He’s addressing the vehicle.
If the Republican Party wants to succeed in the future, it has to start dropping off conservatives and start picking up a different kind of passenger.
The Democrats have faced the same challenge. It’s in the nature of the two-party system that each party will perform one side of a two-sided dance. But the Democrats have a few advantages at the moment. The kids at the train station prefer the look of their vehicle to the beat up jalopy the Republicans are using as a taxi. Immigrants that gain citizenship prefer to ride with the Democrats, too. Suburban voters, particularly women, are repelled by the GOP. A lot fewer of the Democrats’ passengers die each year. And, there are a ton of people idling around looking for a lift whose only option right to now is to hop in with the Democrats.
Finishing up with this analogy, there will probably not be a point at which the conservatives willingly hand over the keys to the Republican Party’s car. As we’ve seen in California and New England, they’d rather get no fares than change their ideology and rhetoric to attract the wrong kind of passengers. It looks like Texas is the next state on the list, and if it falls to the Democrats it will signal the end of the conservative movement’s viability as a taxi company. But, remember, the conservatives in the Republican Party had enough influence even in the wilderness years between the 1932 election of FDR and the 1994 Gingrich Revolution to keep the GOP in a near-permanent congressional minority. The party does not adapt easily.
What’s different about Texas is its impact on the Electoral College. During the wilderness years, the Republicans still manage to elect Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, and Poppy Bush. The party’s congressional misery was thus offset to a considerable degree by their potential to own the White House. If Texas goes blue, it will end that hope for conservatives of the future.
Perhaps at that point, the financiers of the right will finally conclude that conservatives need to find another ride.
When that happens, assuming it ever does, the conservatives will be stranded outside of the two-party system and may go back to the quietism that typified the religious right before the rise of the Moral Majority in the 1970s.
Or they may not be so quiet, armed as they are with enough guns to fight a Central American civil war. The recent gun violence we’ve seen from this group probably signals that they anticipate their coming fate and don’t plan on giving up easily.