I’ve been thinking what the coming elections will bring. And I’m going to present them now, although obviously they are highly uncertain. In 2014, I expect the Republicans to make small gains in both the House and Senate. I figure they have about 50% chance of retaking the Senate. (On the other hand, if the Republicans manage to force the federal government into a default over the Debt Ceiling, it will decimate the party and the Democrats will control both houses at the beginning of 2015.) After this reasonable showing, Republican conventional wisdom will be that they won’t have to do anything to reform. Karl Rove will increase his daily dose of Prilosec.
In 2016, the Democrats will have a huge year. They will retain the White House and get or retain control of Congress. At this point, all of the pundits will say that surely now the Republican Party will reform itself. But the party will not make any changes for the same reason they aren’t now: they don’t want to offend the base of support (which will still be substantial) that they already have. This is when the chance of a Karl Rove heart attack really increases.
In 2018, the Democrats will make small gains. Given that it is an off year elections, the Republican Party will be forced to reconsider. They will note that their gerrymandering is no longer helping. What’s more, if they don’t do anything, the Democrats will be able to gerrymander them out of existence in 2020. They will note that their efforts at voter suppression have failed. They will see their base dying off and their policies seen as medieval. And they will, at long last, rebuild the tattered remains of a once great American political party. If Karl Rove is still alive, he won’t be of much help. Just the same, lots of Republicans will tell him, “We should have listened to you!”
Is this happy horseshit? I don’t think so. But it does reflect what I think it will take for the Republican Party to accept the hit from its base: three election cycles. There are lots of other things they could do, but for a party that has been so good at using fear and resentment to political advantage, they’ve been strangely clueless about everything else. Think of the Democratic Party coming into the the 1960s. It was a racist party! But it saw an opportunity to grab the civil rights mantel.
Republicans could have grabbed the marriage equality mantel. God knows the Democrats were reluctant to do it. And it would have cost them so little. In my experience, the Christian community is far more obsessed with abortion and birth control than they are gay rights. But the Republican Party let it pass. And I suspect that the Republicans will do the same thing with the libertarian anti-war or anti-bank possibilities. The reason is that to its very core, the conservative movement in this country thinks its purpose is to hold the line against modernity. And that just isn’t going to work. One day, being against same sex marriage will seem as bigoted as miscegenation laws do today.
It will take three election cycles for Republicans to find their way forward. I just hope that the Democrats don’t use this opportunity to become even more the party of big business.