Is the GOP Splintering?

6 mins read
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After this poll was released, this question came to me on Twitter:

I see two possibilities ahead for the Republican Party.

#1: The party hardens as a right-wing white nationalist party and shrinks in size.

#2: Moderate conservatives retake the party.

The second option creates what political scientists call the “conservative dilemma.” The conservative dilemma, in a nutshell, is this: Conservatives tend to represent the wealthy and powerful corporations, therefore the policies they advocate are not appealing to the majority of people. In other words, they will have trouble winning elections.

In the years since 1954, the Republican Party, while calling itself conservative, solved the conservative dilemma by bringing white nationalists and KKK types into the party, coddling them for their votes while trying to keep them on the sidelines.

Eventually the radical extremists did just what you’d expect. They took over the party. If the moderate conservatives retake the GOP, they’ll have to figure out how to win elections with policies that tend to be unpopular with right-wing extremists. In other words, they’ll have to learn how to win elections without appealing to the kind of people who attacked the Capitol last week.

Last week—coincidentally the day before the insurrection—I wrote this Op Ed piece for NBC, arguing that the two parties will cease to be left v. right / liberal v. conservative. If things continue this way, the two parties will be democracy v. anti-democracy.

I agree, and here’s the problem in a nutshell: Where do the cuckoos go? Many were nonvoters before Trump. They had no interest in politics. In a democracy, politics is complicated and slow-moving, and requires compromise. They had no interest—until Trump turned them into voters by riling and thrilling them.

Maybe they’ll slink away again. When Trump failed to “win” and deliver on his promise (a beautiful autocracy), many felt disgusted with the Republican Party, so maybe they’ll go form their own. So moderates retaking the party is still a possibility.

Kelly Loeffler provides an interesting example. She swung hard right and hitched her wagon to the crazy train because she knew without Trump voters, she couldn’t win. She lost anyway.

That’s the problem the GOP has right now. They need Trump hardcore voters but winning elections by appealing to an increasingly radicalized base will require adopting more extreme views. People liked my prediction that a hardcore extremist GOP will shrink. That’s the good part. The bad part is, it will become increasingly dangerous.

Questions From My Email

What is the likelihood that the Senate will convict Trump? If not likely, Trump will claim he has been vindicated. What’s your “cost-benefit” analysis?

I think the Republican Party would benefit from exorcising Trump from their party. If they don’t, isn’t there a risk that he might run again?

The answer to this question depends on which of the two above options the Republican Party selects. I suspect that by the time we get to the Senate trial, the evidence that Trump incited a riot will be overwhelming. The mere fact that he refused to concede and for the first time brought the United States to the place where the transfer of power was not peaceful should be enough to convict and prevent him from running again.

If the Senate convicts, they have taken Option #2. If they convict, it will mean enough Republican Senators want to pull the party back from authoritarianism.

My gut right now is they will convict. Ten House Republicans switching sides was a positive sign. Because of gerrymandering, House members tend to be more radicalized. Senators have to run in statewide elections, which forces some moderation.

If the Senate convicts, the crazies will be enraged with the Republicans and may leave the party, or they may keep trying to wrest control.

Hello Teri, would you be able to suggest something I personally can do to contribute toward improving the divide? Joining a particular organization? Something to promote positivity and education—critical thinking to help stem the successful brainwashing of so many.

This is a great question. I wouldn’t try to reach people who are brainwashed. You’ll wear yourself out. The best thing we can do is: (1) work to elect Democratic leaders who will have enough of a majority to pass legislation to help stop the proliferation of lies and (2) find ways to put pressure on the networks spreading lies by persuading advertisers to stay away. #1 requires a lot of work. For ideas on how to get started, click here. #2 requires a great deal of organizing. It may start happening naturally if the Republican Party and its positions become increasingly toxic. Look at all the corporations that pulled their funding from Republican candidates after the insurrection on January 6.

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Teri has written novels, short stories, nonfiction for both young readers and adults, and lots of legal briefs. She is currently working on a book on disinformation to be published by Macmillan Publishers. Her political commentary has appeared on the NBC Think Blog and Her articles and essays have appeared in publications as diverse as Education Week, Slate Magazine, and Scope Magazine. Her short fiction has appeared in the American Literary View, The Iowa Review, and others. For twelve years she maintained a private appellate law practice limited to representing indigents on appeal from adverse rulings. She believes with the ACLU that when the rights of society's most vulnerable members are denied, everybody's rights are imperiled. She also believe with John Updike that the purpose of literature is to expand our sympathies. Teri lives with her family on the beautiful central coast in California.

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