The Republican Party has waxed and waned in popularity and membership over the years, never quite having as many registered partisans as the Democrats. At one time, the two parties were very close in registered voters.
But today, a survey by Ballot Access shows there are more registered independents than Republicans, perhaps a sign that political parties themselves are failing. The drop in GOP registrations predates the Trump era, so the fall can’t be blamed on the president.
But perhaps it’s not so much who Republicans are as much as what it is they are becoming.
In 2004, Democrats made up 42.19 percent of the vote, Republicans made up 32.79 percent of the vote and independents made up 23.15 percent of the vote. The number of independents has been growing since, while the number of Democrats and Republicans has slowly declined.
Democrats did see a boost in 2008 when former President Obama was elected, hitting a peak of 43.62 percent of registered voters. But by 2016, the percent of registered Democrats had declined to 40.6 percent.
The new information comes as voters across the country head to the polls for their primaries and caucuses, with Super Tuesday approaching next week. However, it does not indicate an advantage to either party’s candidate in the general election this fall.
Younger voters like to see themselves as independents, but a majority still consider themselves “center-right.” They are just as conservative as their elders on most bread and butter issues but tend to be more liberal on social issues. It doesn’t really matter if they don’t register as Republicans as long as they keep voting for most GOP candidates.
But the Republican Party has changed. Nowhere is this more apparent than the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) just concluding in Washington. It was the dream of conservatives like Bill Buckley and Ronald Reagan that the Republican Party would become the Conservative Party — moderates and liberals need not apply. It appears that Buckley and Reagan’s dream has finally come true.
“Movement conservatives saw themselves as being separate from the administration,” recalled Matt Lewis, a columnist at The Daily Beast who was, at one point, honored as CPAC’s Blogger of the Year in 2010. “Part of our job was to hold them accountable and to cheer them when they did well, boo them when they did bad. And now I think there’s a sense that they’re really one and the same. The conservative movement is the Republican party, is CPAC, is Donald Trump.”
The right wing has also gotten what they wanted; a smaller, purified Republican Party with few apostates and zero opposition to Trump. Thinking conservatives need not apply.
A former CPAC organizer admitted that this symbiosis with the White House was a likely draw for attendees. “I can’t imagine that it hasn’t garnered attendees that may have attended before and never got to experience a sitting president and First Family, as well as a sitting VP and almost every cabinet secretary representative or cabinet level official,” said this organizer.
Trump is set up nicely to win the 2020 election. Everything is falling into place: a strong economy with low inflation, low interest rates, and low unemployment. The Democrats are preparing to commit political suicide by nominating a far-left socialist to head their ticket. A sitting president couldn’t ask for better circumstances.
But what if he doesn’t win? What if his re-election is derailed? Not just coronavirus, but an economic slowdown is possible, or a financial crisis, or perhaps a war.
The question is, then what? Whither the GOP without Trump in power? Far-right activists have deliberately shrunk the party to accommodate Trumpkins. They demand absolute fealty and absolute loyalty to the president. What does the party of Trump do without Trump?