I have basically been in agreement with Sean Trende about the Republican Party’s option regarding being a white party. But there is a very big difference. Trende seems to think it is a good idea; I think it is just the Republican Party’s only option given that they are unwilling to do anything to moderate their ideology or stop their pandering to what is essentially a bigoted base. Well, Trende is out with a fourth article that shows in excessive detail that Republicans can continue to win election with this New Southern Strategy.
To some extent, however, Trende is attacking a straw man. No one I know is making the argument that Republicans can’t or won’t win elections if they don’t broaden their appeal. The argument is that it will get harder and harder. And Trende effectively concedes this point. His whole argument is predicated on the idea that Republicans can win 70% of the white vote. I find this a highly dubious contention, although it is a lot easier to imagine now that the Supreme Court has effectively shot down the Voting Rights Act.
Yesterday, Francis Wilkinson pushed back on Trende’s argument, Republicans’ Dead-End Search for ‘Missing White Voters’. He argued that the numbers are all well and fine, but this isn’t just about numbers. He said that the current demographic makeup of the Republican party is a “crisis of legitimacy”:
I would go further. The more that the Republican Party becomes seen as the party of whites, the more that whites themselves will rebel against it. There is a lot of identity in politics but only the most extreme don’t wince at the thought of identifying as white in this regard. There is too much history and no one wants to be associated with white bigots setting fire hoses on black protesters. And note: the Republican Party wouldn’t have to become overwhelmingly white to be perceived that way; it would only take the kind of white-focused campaign that Trende envisions.
None of this changes my notion of what will happen, however. I like Trende—I think he is a brilliant analyst. I’m tempted to say that he has harmed the Republican Party by demonstrating that they don’t have to make any changes. But I don’t think that’s right. This is another case like Reinhart and Rogoff. The Republican Party was always planning to push further into being a white party. Trende has simply supplied them with the intellectual grounding to justify it. This will not end well.