Trump and DeSantis are not the end of the GOP – 4/25/2023 – Ross Douthat

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My last column made the argument, once taken for granted but now somewhat disputed, that Ron DeSantis needs to run in 2024 if he is to seize his best shot at being president. The contestations I addressed were mostly focused on the potency of Donald Trump as an obstacle to DeSantis’ ambitions and the advantages of waiting until 2028.

But there is a secondary argument worth discussing: the idea that DeSantis’ right-wing record will doom him as a candidate in the general election, whether because of his war with Disney or his longtime support of cutting mandatory spending on programs or his recent signing of Florida’s six-week abortion ban.

I don’t think this argument is all that pertinent to the question of whether Florida’s governor should run in 2024 rather than 2028: If the anti-abortion laws and the wars against Disney are kryptonite for the general election, then four years won’t make it any longer. salable to undecided voters.

But DeSantis’s diminished chances are linked to a very important idea in current debates: that the Republican Party, in some ways, is barely managing to maintain national competitiveness, that it is extremely vulnerable to ideological errors and demographic changes, and that it’s easy for a Republican politician to simply get out of the way of the majority.

One sees this implied in different ways and in different places. For example, Richard Hanania’s recent suggestion that the unpopularity of the pro-life cause could “destroy” the Republican Party. Or James Surowiecki’s suggestion that “the only reason the current Republican Party is viable as a national party is because of the Electoral College/Senate structure, combined with the higher-educated white voters in the South who continue to vote Republican. “.

Or Jonathan Chait’s argument that DeSantis could easily end up a significantly weaker candidate than Trump in the general election, and not just fall to Trump’s level. Or Twitter liberals’ overreactions and disbelief to Michael Brendan Dougherty’s argument that there may be voters who chose Hillary Clinton in 2016 but could switch to DeSantis.

There is a mild version of this belief in the weakness of the Republican Party that is entirely defensible. The acronym is hardly a juggernaut. She struggles mightily to obtain majorities of popular votes at the presidential level. It finds some of its strongest support among the declining strata. It is tied to a variety of unpopular positions and is often incompetent at policy making. It is definitely not optimized to win the overwhelming majorities of the Nixon or Reagan eras.

But the prophecies about the end of the Republican Party as a viable force outside the South, its relegation to quasi-permanent minority status, were only plausible at the beginning of the Obama era, after the real crushing defeats the party suffered in 2006 and 2008. Since then , the story has been one of GOP resilience in a number of different incarnations, whether in the agitational, establishment-cautious libertarian form or Trump’s populist form. The Republican Party championed unpopular causes, chose widely hated candidates, pioneered new forms of self-sabotage and political negligence. However, it picked up unexpected wins and bounced back quickly from its losses, and it looks as competitive today as it has at any point since 2008.

There is no perfect way to gauge a party’s strength as a party, as opposed to what a particular presidential candidate or Senate map might make of it. But looking at the two-party vote for the House is probably the best proxy we have. By that standard, the Republican Party in 2008 appeared to be in the political wilderness: it lost the House popular vote by more than 10 points, a show comparable to the losses it regularly suffered in the days when the New Deal coalition dominated American politics.

But there have been seven House elections since 2008, and the Republican Party has won the popular vote in four of them. In the other three, he suffered an effective defeat (2018) and two tight defeats (2012 and 2020). Its best votes were in 2010 and 2014, but it won a clear majority only in 2022.

These are not the numbers of a fatally regionalized party, or a party that cannot hope to gain power without manipulating polling stations, or a party that does not appeal to independents and swing voters. Indeed, you could argue that they spell out the luck of the Democrats because the GOP is so prone to self-sabotage — with a little more normalcy, a little less Trumpist and ideological madness, and a slightly more voter-attuned political agenda. median, the Republicans could have been the clear majority party in the US for the last decade.

So far, there is no good reason to think that abortion radically changes this dynamic. The issue is clearly a good one for Democrats. It’s a greater responsibility for Republicans in places that are more secular and where the party has already multiplied its responsibilities — like Michigan, where the state party is especially a captive of incompetence and extremism. It appears to be less of a liability in places like Georgia and Ohio, where popular Republican governors have signed abortion bans past the sixth week without paying any notable political price.

As far as DeSantis is concerned, the abortion ban is out of step with both the Florida electorate and the national electorate, does not help him politically outside of the primary and could cost him a close national election. But it is far more likely to be one more problem among the many that keep the GOP from reaching its full potential than the last straw that finally breaks the party’s back.

And that overall potential looks stronger than ever in 2024. Right now, because he’s still up in the air for many voters, one might think of DeSantis as a stand-in for a generic Republican in the tight polls against Joe Biden. In that role, he is leading in seven of the last 10 polls compiled by RealClearPolitics, including a new Wall Street Journal poll released this week, as well as recent polls of swing states Arizona and Pennsylvania.

It’s good and reasonable, in that context, to look at DeSantis’s weaknesses and ask whether, as a candidate, he would find his own way to something more like Trump’s position — as a competitive candidate, but one who is unlikely to win without a boost from the Trump administration. Electoral College, another real-life Republican candidate who loses a lot of votes that a generic Republican might win.

But we still must be clear about what this analysis describes: not a Republican Party that is barely viable, on the ropes and barely holding on, but a Republican Party that consistently has majorities within reach, and, when it fails to win them, it does so less from inherent political weakness than from wasted strength.

Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves

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