• Senate Democrats: Republican Infrastructure Proposal Is a Non-Starter
• Whither the Republicans, Redux, Part III: The Conspiracists
• Whither the Republicans, Redux, Part IV: The Faces of the Party
• Whither the Republicans by the Numbers, Part I: The Evangelicals
• Whither the Republicans by the Numbers, Part II: National Trends
The presumption is that AG Merrick Garland spends most of his time these days looking carefully at the Capitol insurrection, while perhaps taking the occasional opportunity to reread the Mueller Report and to think about what he wants to do on that front. However, he and his team were apparently also paying close attention to the Derek Chauvin trial, because just hours after the verdict was announced, the Justice Department said it was going to undertake a thorough review of the Minneapolis police department.
The general idea here is that one rogue cop may have gotten busted, but that does not necessarily mean that the systematic issues that made Chauvin possible have gone away, or have even been looked at. "Yesterday's verdict in the state criminal trial does not address potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis," explained the AG in a statement. And so, the Justice Department will do its own looking in hopes of addressing those issues.
Most reform-minded Americans will regard the investigation as a step in the right direction, but the Justice Department can only do so much, given how many police departments there are compared to how many staffers the Justice Department has. More substantive, nationwide reform will necessarily require the involvement of Congress, which has the ability to pass laws, not to mention the ability to appropriate the vast amount of money it will take to reorient the country's approach to policing.
In a surprise to nobody, the battle lines are forming, and they run right down the center of the aisle, as they always seem to these days. After Tuesday's verdict, nearly every Democrat issued a tweet, or made a statement, or appeared on TV to laud the verdict and to proclaim that justice had been done. Nearly every Republican, meanwhile, was silent. As a party that depends on the support of strongly pro-police voters (not to mention racists), this was a "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil" situation for most GOP officeholders.
We can think of nothing that is likely to change this dynamic anytime soon. So, get ready for a lot of articles with this headline: "Can police reform be accomplished through the budget reconciliation process?" (Z)
Yesterday, we observed that the infrastructure proposal Senate Republicans are bandying about, with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) taking the lead, is not a real offer, even as an opening bid. It concedes far too little in terms of Democratic priorities, while also calling for choices that the blue team finds to be unacceptable (like keeping corporate tax rates where they are). Our guess was that the GOP conference doesn't especially want to work with Democrats, for fear of giving them (and, in particular, Joe Biden) a win. What the Republicans really want, we think, is to make it look like they were trying to reach across the aisle, so they can slam the Democrats for their obstinacy and lack of interest in bipartisanship.
It would seem that Senate Democrats are in agreement with us. On Wednesday, several of them made clear that the GOP proposal is rejected before it's even been offered. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) called the plan "anemic," Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said that it "does not meet the moment," Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) observed that it's a "far cry from $2.5 trillion," and Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) said that an increase in corporate tax rates is non-negotiable.
Capito said she's still working, and that she really wishes her colleagues would give her a chance before passing judgment. Welcome to Washington, Shelley. Meanwhile, the "Gang of 20" Senators (10 R, 10 D) says they will continue to work on their own plan. Maybe they will come up with something, but when even the most centrist Republican members of that group (Mitt Romney, R-UT, and Susan Collins, R-ME) continue to insist that this can all be done without changing corporate tax rates, the prospects do not seem promising. (Z)
We've written a fair bit recently about some of the serious challenges facing the Republican Party these days, as they try to hold together a coalition that is delicate under the best of circumstances, and that has become, as often as not, mutually antagonistic in the Trump years. Here's a list of the issues we've already covered:
- Relationship with Corporate America
- The Evangelicals
- The Right-wing Media
- Environmentalism/Global-warming Denial
- Relationship with Corporate America (again)
This would be a pretty good to-do list for RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel, assuming she was interested in hearing some hard truths, and trying to grapple with them. She does not seem to be all that interested, however, preferring instead to just keep repeating her mantra "In Donald We Trust."
Anyhow, let us now move on to yet another problem that faces the Party, namely conspiratorial thinking. The Republican Party used to be, arguably, even more evidence-based than the Democratic Party. But not anymore; GOP politicians and their allies in the media have indulged regularly in conspiratorial thinking in the last few years, from the "deep state" to QAnon to "stop the steal" and beyond.
There are two distinct issues here. The first is that, for those who are not of a conspiratorial bent, such theories are repellent. There are lots of educated voters out there who might consider voting Republican, but who cannot abide by a party that lives much of its time in a fantasy world.
The second problem is that conspiratorial thinking is like biological warfare: You can't be certain it won't eventually rebound on you. This is already happening to the Republicans, of course. Donald Trump and his base are targeting GOP officeholders who refused to buy in to the notion that the election was stolen, most obviously Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R); both might lose their jobs as a result.
At least a few prominent Republicans see this problem, and recognize it as the serious issue that it is. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI) spoke to CNN recently and said, "The fact that a significant plurality, if not potentially a majority, of our voters have been deceived into this creation of an alternate reality could very well be an existential threat to the party." This is also one of the forms of "craziness" that former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner laments in his recent book.
This is not going to be an easy problem to solve, as Pandora's Box has been opened. The single biggest predictor of whether or not someone is likely to believe a conspiracy theory is...if they already believe some other conspiracy theory. And while the conspiratorial thinking and rhetoric reached a fever pitch during the Trump years, the fact is that they've been an aspect of the Republican Party for going on three decades. The enemies of the Clintons dipped their toes into the conspiracy pond in the early 1990s, most obviously with wild ideas about the suicide of Vince Foster, and more broadly with the alleged "Clinton Body Count." With Barack Obama, it was his supposed non-citizenship and his supposed secret adherence to Islam. In 2016, the Clinton conspiracies were back, from e-mail to Benghazi to the murder of Seth Rich. The point is, QAnon did not come out of nowhere.
These days, Republicans from the top of the ladder to the very bottom are drinking deeply from the conspiratorial cup. For example, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), one of the most prominent members of his conference, has spent much time in the past few weeks embracing the (popular among Republicans) conspiracy theory that Joe Biden is not in control of his faculties, is not really running the country, and that he's being puppet-mastered by someone else. Even worse are the right-wing media types, with Tucker Carlson in particular leading the charge. He seems to have a new conspiracy theory every week, though his very favorite these days is the so-called "great replacement theory," the notion that American Jews and progressives are doing everything they can to replace white voters with minority voters. It's not so easy to get both racism and antisemitism into such a tidy package, but Carlson's done it.
Polls show that a big portion of the GOP rank and file is eating this stuff up. Well, a big portion of the Trump-supporting Republicans, at least. A Civiqs poll shows that 56% of Republicans think QAnon is mostly (33%) or partly (23%) true, while a new study from the University of Washington reveals that 98% of Trump supporters believe that he lost due to election fraud, 90% think he was truthful in everything he said about COVID-19, and two-thirds think that Antifa was to blame for the events of Jan. 6.
Of the various issues we've pointed out, this may be the biggest challenge to fix, should the GOP pooh bahs even decide they want to do so (and there's little indication they do). Conspiratorial thinking is now endemic to the culture of the Party, and it runs very, very deep. In his book, Boehner observes that the leaders of the GOP are certain to keep up the craziness until they pay a price for it. But thus far, the loudest and most influential of the conspiracists have paid virtually no price at all. And the low likelihood of accountability, at least anytime soon, is illustrated by the fact that the supposedly clear-eyed Boehner, who presumes to be deeply concerned about the issues that ail his party, concedes that his 2020 presidential vote went to...Donald Trump.
Boehner explained his vote by saying what he really cares about is cutting taxes (for rich people) and appointing conservative judges. Viewed that way, despite the antics, Trump was exactly what mainstream Republicans want in terms of policy and appointments. Most likely many Senate Republicans were equally appalled by Trump's behavior, but loved the tax cuts and judges. For this reason they tolerated him and will probably tolerate an equally crazy successor as long as he keeps delivering tax cuts and conservatives judges and justices. (Z)
Let's take a look at one last issue, one somewhat related to the one above, before we (presumably) finish discussing major issues that face the current iteration of the Republican Party. At any given time, the national parties tend to be substantially defined by half a dozen or so of their most prominent members. People know their local representatives, of course (particularly their U.S. Senators), but beyond that, to take an example, the Democratic Party is largely defined in voters' minds by Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and probably Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Some voters see these folks as representing a spectrum of Democratic policy positions, others see all six as proof that the party is run by wild-eyed socialists.
The Republicans' problem in this area is that there is now a whole wing of the media that encourages and rewards the least mainstream members of the party, pushing them to become ever more outrageous. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) is the obvious case study here; given that she's been stripped of all of her committee assignments, she has little to do all day besides plan and execute stunts, and then go on Fox News, OAN, and Newsmax to talk about those stunts. Most of the other main faces of the party these days—Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Ted Cruz (R-TX); House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA); Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), and Lauren Boebert (R-CO); and, of course, Donald Trump—are well known for their outlandish rhetoric and propensity for political theater.
And because the outrageous behavior thrills the base, often folks who are happy to get out their wallets to keep the show going, the crazies are the ones who are banking the most money these days. The list of Republicans who took the lead in Q1 fundraising, and the list above are, to a greater or lesser extent, the same list, with Greene, Cruz, and Hawley leading the way. This money not only reinforces the behavior, it also makes these folks powers unto themselves, increasingly beyond the control of the Party. Right now, for example, Gaetz is rather toxic due to the serious charges of sexual misconduct that have been lodged against him. The Party would really prefer that he resign and disappear but, failing that, they would like him to put his head down and keep quiet until this has been resolved. Instead, Gaetz has undertaken a media blitz, and has tapped into his campaign war chest to fund national commercials, airing on CNN, in which he defends himself. One wonders what the Federal Elections Commission thinks about "I'm not a rapist" ads as a legitimate campaign expense.
In addition to defining the Party in the eyes of voters, these folks also encourage the proliferation of additional toxic candidates. The career of former Missouri governor Eric Greitens should, by all rights, be over. However, with folks like Gaetz and Trump running around, he has concluded there is a place for an adulterous extortionist in the modern GOP. In that same race, businessman Mark McCloskey is also considering a bid since, apparently, waving your gun menacingly (and possibly illegally) at Black people is now qualification enough for high office. There are many other outside-the-mainstream candidates lining up for a shot in 2022, from Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who would like a promotion to the U.S. Senate, to a gaggle of fanatically pro-Trump candidates in purple states and districts who might well win their primaries. Many Republican leaders are deeply concerned that these outside-the-mainstream candidates (and officeholders) will alienate moderates and independents and will cost the party a number of winnable elections.
As with the conspiracy theories (see above), it may not be plausible to rein these folks in. It's not like the party was able to control Kris Kobach, or Roy Moore or, for that matter, Donald Trump. On the other hand, Greene's new America First Caucus, which might as well have been called KKK PAC, collapsed more quickly than the new European soccer super league. Someone, or something, got to her. There has been little information about who or what it was, but maybe there's a roadmap there for getting, say, Ted Cruz to shut up for once. (Z)
Having written these various pieces about the state of the Republican Party, we've gotten a number of requests to translate this into numbers. Some of these things are not easy to quantify, but we thought we could take a look at one area where that is at least somewhat possible: The GOP's reliance on evangelical voters.
The appeal of evangelicals as a constituency is obvious. They vote reliably, they donate money generously, they are a big part of the population in some very important states, and their loyalty can be maintained with just a few key policy positions (basically, anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion). That kind of predictability and stability is gold in electoral politics.
That said, there are also two reasons that the evangelicals are becoming a problem for the Republican Party. The first is that the policy positions they demand are out of step with the political moment, and make the Party unpalatable to an increasingly large number of voters (especially younger ones). The second is that the number of devout evangelicals is shrinking, which means that these broadly unpopular policy positions are producing diminishing returns.
Before we get to the numbers, we will note that measuring evangelical support is a notoriously tricky business. That term means different things to different people, with the result being that many folks who clearly qualify don't always identify as such. When a pollster asks "Would you describe yourself as 'born-again' or evangelical?," for example, they will often get nearly double the affirmative responses than if they just ask "Would you describe yourself as an evangelical?"
That said, there is a pretty clear consensus on a few key numbers. First, benefiting from years' worth of data, most pollsters agree on the percentage of evangelicals to be found in each state. Second, those evangelicals appear to have broken about 3-to-1 for Republican tickets in the last few elections. And third, the percentage of the American public that identifies as evangelical has declined a bit in the past 10 years, from somewhere in the mid-40s to somewhere in the low 40s or high 30s. The extent of the slide might be as much as 8-9 points or as little as 2-3.
We started with the percentage of evangelical voters in each of the 50 states plus D.C.; that's the second column. We then averaged the vote totals for the last two presidential elections and calculated the Republicans' margin; that's the third column. With those two data points, it was easy enough to figure out that there are five states where the GOP is critically dependent on evangelical votes if they want to remain competitive: Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida.
Our presumption is that when the percentage of evangelicals drops, there are two different phenomena going on. The first is that people who were once evangelical cease identifying as such. It's more likely than not that folks like that, if they were voting Republican already, will stick with the GOP. The second is that people who were evangelicals die off, and are replaced by new voters who are not evangelical (young people, or immigrants). It's more likely than not that folks like that will vote Democratic. These two possibilities probably come pretty close to balancing each other out, such that when the percentage of evangelicals nationwide drops by 1 percent, it means that 1 American in 100 has gone from being a 3-in-4 chance to vote Republican to being a coin flip.
Here is what will happen in the five states in question if everything else remains the same, but 2 in 100 Americans cease to be evangelical (column 4), 4 in 100 cease to be evangelical (column 5), or 6 in 100 cease to be evangelical (column 6):
|State||Evangelical Pct.||Avg. Margin 2016-20||2 in 100||4 in 100||6 in 100|
Again, this is just a rough estimate, based on the best available information. And it doesn't account for other, related factors that would also play a role. Nonetheless, our back of the envelope math suggests that if there is a slight dip in evangelicalism, Wisconsin will go from being purple to being light blue or blue. A slightly larger dip will put Arizona, already trending blue, largely out of reach for the GOP. And a big dip, similar to the one seen over the last decade, would be armageddon for the Republicans, with Georgia largely out of reach and the key swing states of North Carolina and Florida slipping away.
Perhaps the looming crisis here is not imminent, since it would be pretty tough for the number of evangelicals to drop that much before the next couple of presidential elections have taken place. On the other hand, these figures focus primarily on the "diminishing returns" part of the story, and largely don't even account for the "alienating non-evangelical voters" part of the equation, which could not only affect the GOP in these five states, but all of the other swing states as well. (Z)
Having zoomed in on one part of the puzzle, let's now try to take a big picture view, and to see if the trendlines for the Republican Party look as bad as our items seem to suggest.
It was not easy to come up with a viable way to try to look at this. Looking at presidential returns might seem the obvious choice, but that gives us a somewhat limited data set, since there's only one presidential election every four years. Further, the extent to which those results speak to the national political climate, and the extent to which they are influenced by the specific candidates and the specific dynamics of the race, are hard to separate.
Instead, then, we decided to go with the aggregate votes cast for U.S. Senate seats in each election from 1976 to 2020. That gives us a national picture, but one that is an aggregate (in each year) of 33-38 races, and so less likely to be influenced by one particular candidate. It also gives us data points every two years instead of every four. Columns two through six in the chart below give the aggregate vote totals for each party, the share of the two party vote for each party, and the Democrats' average margin in each election.
That wasn't quite enough to get us to where we wanted to be, though. Any given year is going to be affected pretty heavily by which particular seats happen to be up, and whether it's a presidential year or not. So, we added the seventh column, which provides a three election rolling average of the Democratic margin. That means that every single Senate seat was up (at least) once during the timeframe covered. For example, across the 1976, 1978, and 1980 elections, the Democrats collected, on average, 7.3% more votes than the Republicans.
The three election rolling average helped eliminate some statistical noise, but there was still the problem of midterm vs. presidential elections, and the different statistical profiles therein. For example, the Democrats' rolling average of a 0.4% margin of victory in 2014 is something of an outlier because it includes both of the Barack Obama midterm elections (2010 and 2014). So, we added the final column, which provides a six-election rolling average. In that timeframe, every Senate seat is up (at least) once in a presidential year and (at least) once in a non-presidential year.
And now, the numbers:
|Year||Dem Votes||Rep Votes||Dem Pct.||Rep Pct.||Dem. Margin||3 Elec. Avg.||6 Elec. Avg.|
As you can see, the first column at least hints at trouble for the GOP, as three of their six worst elections in the (nearly) half-century since 1975 came in the last five cycles. The second column makes things a little clearer, as there is a pretty clear trendline outside of that wonky 2014 figure. And the third column, which smooths things, makes the trendline clearer still. In the Bill Clinton and early George W. Bush years, the electorate was pretty evenly divided. Since the middle of the W. Bush presidency, however, the Republicans have been falling behind the Democrats. Today, the electorate profiles much as it did in the 1980s (and, for that matter, the 1970s), when solid Democratic control of Congress was the norm.
At the moment, structural advantages are keeping the Republican coalition viable; gerrymandering for the House, the small-state advantage in the Senate, and the Electoral College for the presidency. However, they are working with razor-thin margins that are trending in the wrong direction for them. The House will probably be the last to go, but the GOP has already lost the Senate and has an ugly map in 2022, as well as the looming possibility of D.C. statehood. Meanwhile, they've won the popular vote in just one of the last eight presidential elections. You can only play with fire for so long before you get burned. Or Bidened. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr21 Republicans May Blow their Shot on Infrastructure
Apr21 Whither the Republicans, Redux, Part I: The Environment
Apr21 Whither the Republicans, Redux, Part II: Corporate America
Apr21 Elections Have Consequences
Apr21 Here a Book Deal, There a Book Deal, but Not Everywhere a Book Deal
Apr21 Bush Tries to Remake His Image
Apr20 The Last Piece of the Puzzle?
Apr20 Washington Waits for Chauvin Verdict
Apr20 Greg Abbott Is in Trouble
Apr20 Republican Cranks Are Cranky
Apr20 Kyrsten Sinema Has a Message for...Someone
Apr20 Rep. Steve Stivers Will Step Down
Apr20 Walter Mondale Is Dead at 93
Apr19 U.S. Warns Putin about Consequences if Navalny Dies
Apr19 Manchin Doesn't Like the Infrastructure Bill
Apr19 Was There a Reverse Coattails Effect?
Apr19 Trump's Spy Can't Spy on the Spies Anymore
Apr19 A Hells Angel in the Senate?
Apr19 2024 Fundraising Has Started
Apr19 McDaniel Urged to be Less Trumpish
Apr19 America First Caucus Is Dead
Apr19 Poll: Ending Lifetime Appointments for Justices is Popular
Apr19 People Are Tired of Waiting for Godot
Apr18 Sunday Mailbag
Apr17 Saturday Q&A
Apr16 Bipartisanship Theater
Apr16 About that Court Packing...
Apr16 Chauvin Trial Is Almost Over
Apr16 Pence Gets Pacemaker
Apr16 Nikki Haley for President?
Apr16 Former Cold War Foes News, Part I: Russia Hit With Sanctions
Apr16 Former Cold War Foes News, Part II: Castro to Retire
Apr15 Manchin and Biden Actually Like Each Other
Apr15 Can Democrats and CEOs Be Friends?
Apr15 Gensler Is Confirmed as SEC Chairman
Apr15 Democrats Are Fretting about Stephen Breyer
Apr15 House Committee Approves D.C. as a State
Apr15 Greitens Is Already Causing Trouble for Republicans
Apr15 Kevin Brady Is Retiring
Apr15 McAuliffe Has Huge Lead in Virginia Democratic Gubernatorial Primary
Apr14 Afghanistan War to End Later This Year
Apr14 Biden Will Address Congress Later This Month
Apr14 Pence for President?
Apr14 A Different Argument for Making it Harder to Vote
Apr14 2020 Democratic Pollsters: Oops!
Apr14 Summer Olympics Could Become a Political Football, Too
Apr13 Biden Makes Border Moves
Apr13 Biden Set to Catch an Economic Wave
Apr13 Republicans Get Ready to Dust off the Filibuster