A Dwindling Republican Party May Be Doomed to Shrink More

Republicans are not typically as cute as baby elephants. Photo: slowmotiongli/Getty Images/iStockphoto

From Gallup comes news that its regular polling on party affiliation shows the largest quarterly gap in major party affiliation since 2012, with 49 percent of U.S. adults identifying themselves as either Democrats (30 percent) or as Democratic-leaning independents (19 percent), while 40 percent call themselves Republicans (25 percent) or Republican-leaning independents (15 percent).

That in itself is not good news for the GOP, though it has managed to stay relatively competitive despite persistently trailing Democrats in party affiliation. As Gallup notes:

Republican advantages have generally been rare and short-lived, but occurred when Americans rallied around incumbent Republican presidents George H.W. Bush after the 1991 U.S. victory in the Gulf War and George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The GOP also had brief leads in party affiliation in the periods surrounding Republican electoral successes in the 1994, 2010 and 2014 midterm elections.

The bigger problem with a relatively small and slightly shrinking party that has just lost a national election is that the kind of revisions in message and leadership such parties sometimes need to expand their appeal may be more difficult to secure when its membership is limited to its “base.” As I noted recently (playing off an excellent piece from Perry Bacon Jr.), there are a host of reasons the post-2020 Republican Party is disinclined to rethink its “brand” or even conduct an after-action review on its loss of the White House and both houses of Congress over the last four years. But a probable contributing factor on the margins is the fact that once swing voters are deducted from the GOP ranks, the remaining party members are more likely to hail from a party base that is completely complacent about the status quo ante. To put it more directly, a party membership increasingly dominated by MAGA bravos is going to be less likely to take off the red hats and look for a leader other than the 45th president.

And that is why “rebranding” and “autopsy” exercises most matter: When political parties are licking their wounds, their membership can be motivated to look beyond immediate views and reimagine a broader coalition. But if they are waving the bloody shirt of an alleged “stolen election” and find bitter and exclusive partisanship to be their most effective unifying glue, a reevaluation will be the last thing on their minds. That may be where the GOP is right now.

A Dwindling Republican Party May Be Doomed to Shrink More