With just over a week left until the election, Republicans are nervous – and with good reason. President Donald Trump is doing poorly in the national polls and in most of the contested states. The Democrats and the small group of Never Trump conservatives can hardly contain their joy.
There are still good reasons for Republicans to hold on to hope. But the odds are currently on former Vice President Joe Biden’s victory and, what is even worse for Republicans, the very real possibility of an election wave in which a Blue Flood driven by coronavirus misery and trump fatigue will sweep the Democrats into control of both houses of Congress and the White House.
Never Trump Republicans and Democrats have written the post-mortems over the past four years about a GOP defeat in 2020. Their anger over 2016 produced a never-ending stream of comments on why the party that supported the incumbent president will be punished with the fires of political hell: defeat, humiliation and irrelevance for the foreseeable future.
A New York Times editorial, spiced with quotes from Never Trumpers such as Peter Wehner and Stuart Stevens, issued a death warrant for Republicans saying that the only thing that could be done with the Trumpified GOP was “to burn it down and start over. If the polls are right, we’ll be hearing a lot more from those Never Trumpers as they dance touchdown dances on the ashes of the party they hope to leave.
But even before the inevitable flood of articles about “how to rebuild the GOP by cleaning it of trumpism phrases,” it is important to understand some key truths about the current Republican Party and how it can recover if it loses next week.
A possible defeat of the GOP in 2020 will be the result of two factors, neither of which will be taken into account in justifying the death sentence imposed on the party.
One is the COVID pandemic, which destroyed a booming economy and called into question the competence of the government-even though the Democrats’ claims that Trump was responsible for all the deaths caused by the disease or that Hillary Clinton or Biden had done better are manifestly false.
The other is Trump fatigue. Even those who like many of his political decisions are tired of his non-presidential personality, his tweets and his exaggerated rudeness. Too many of those who might otherwise be convinced that the democratic alternative is terrible simply want a break from Trump.
But as much as the Republicans are blamed for making the Trump show possible, it is wrong to think that they have abandoned their principles or sold their soul to him.
At the center of the consternation felt by the clique of Never Trumper strategists and mainstream media columnists is the notion of class and manners. Trump’s personal style has cost the support of Republicans among women and college graduate voters. But his willingness to stand up for working-class Americans on issues that mattered to them and which the GOP elites were indifferent or hostile to, such as trade and immigration, reflected exactly the kind of expansion of the traditional Republican base that the party needed.
The hoi polloi, which the established Republicans-although many understood that winning back the Democrats from the working class-who once voted for Ronald Reagan was essential to winning the election-have been upgraded by Trump through the fine-tuning of the ruling and educated classes. But for the elites who benefited in recent decades from the network of GOP institutions that maintained party operations, Trump’s hostile takeover of the party was a personal disaster. It was particularly humiliating to see it come from someone they considered to be a fool, who despised it as much as the liberal elites.
Many in the party feared that Trump would destroy conservatism. But his four years in government proved the opposite. If, as surveys show, more than 90 percent of Republicans stood by him, it was not because they changed their positions but because he converted to their beliefs. On social issues, freedom of religion, gun rights, the courts and the containment of illegal immigration, the former New York liberal proved more loyal and successful in pursuing the political goals of the Right than his V