In my column, “Quo Vadis, Tea Party?” (December 14, 2012), I wrote: “Is the Republican Party in disarray? No. Is it dysfunctional? Probably, yes. Is it crumbling? Not yet. Yes, at the rate the bloodletting is going on, the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln is going through like what ‘Honest Abe’ went through during his tumultuous presidency—a civil war.
“What was once the party that welcomed – nay, tolerated – people with moderate social values into its ranks, has gone through a drastic makeover in 2010 when a new crop of political activists mushroomed in the aftermath of the 2008 defeat of the Republican Party at the hands of Barack Obama. Calling themselves the Tea Party movement, these activists vowed to fight President Obama and deny him a second term.
“And like clockwork, everything went according to plan until Election Day when the Obama blitzkrieg rolled into the nine battlefield states, capturing all except North Carolina. And by the time Ohio was won, the election was over. With 303 electoral votes to Mitt Romney’s 206 – and Florida still voting – Romney conceded defeat.
“A month after the devastating loss of Romney, the Republicans were still trying to figure out why they lost the election. For the past two years after capturing the governorship and legislative bodies in many states, the Republicans systematically put in place legislations that were purportedly designed to prevent ‘voter fraud.’
“But the Federal courts overturn most of these ‘voter suppression’ laws in the weeks before Election Day. With the bad publicity created by the Republicans’ attempt to suppress the vote, it generated more interest among Obama supporters – particularly minority and young voters – who turned out in huge numbers on Election Day. A lot of them had to wait for hours – as much as seven hours – to cast their vote. In Florida, voters stayed in line until the wee hours of the following day even after Romney conceded.
“Romney, who was confident that he was going to win — he didn’t bother to prepare a concession speech just in case he’d lose — was reportedly shell-shocked by the sudden turn of events as states began reporting the election results.
“What surprised Romney was that he lost in eight of the nine battleground states when his internal polls showed that he’d win them all by at least five percentage points in each of them. What the hell happened? Where were the ‘angry white men’ whom Romney cultivated and depended on to vote for him? But as it turned out, there were more angrier women, minority, and young voters than these ‘angry white men.’ And this brings to mind: What made them angrier than the ‘angry white men?’
“For starters, the Republican Party’s rightwing extremist agenda alienated a lot of voters. And they would continue to alienate them for as long as they continue to peddle their extreme rightwing agenda. But their problem is that a lot of Republican right-wingers believed that they lost the election because Romney was not conservative enough.
“But the truth of the matter is that Romney lost because he ran on an ultra-conservative agenda, which is a death knell to anyone seeking the presidency. History tells us that nobody has won the White House on an extremist rightwing or leftwing agenda. A case in point was ultra-conservative Republican Barry Goldwater who lost to moderate Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. Likewise with ultra-liberal Democrat George McGovern who lost to centrist Republican Richard M. Nixon in 1972.
“In essence, to win in a presidential campaign, the candidate should run on a moderate/centrist agenda. Indeed, it was Nixon who said it best when he wrote a letter to Bob Dole in 1995 when he was seeking the Republican presidential nomination. ‘To win the Republican nomination,’ he told Dole, ‘you have to run as far as you can to the right because that’s where 40% of the people who decide the nomination are. And to get elected you have to run as fast as you can back to the middle, because only about 4% of the nation’s voters are on the extreme right wing.’
“Romney tried to do that by running a rightwing campaign during the primaries and then made a sudden – and unexpected — detour to the middle during the first presidential debate, which took Obama completely off guard. Obama lost that first debate but recovered in the second and third debates. But Romney’s shift to the middle came too late. By that time, most voters had already made their choices and the early voters had already voted.
“So, what is in store for the Republican Party? Can the GOP recover from the 2012 election debacle and remain a viable political party capable of winning the presidency? But with the Tea Party still in control of the Republican Party apparatus and dictating its political agenda, it would be difficult for the Republican Party to attract minority, women, and young people into a ‘Big Tent’ that welcomes people of diverse political persuasions. The party tried it in the 1980s and 1990s but failed to keep them simply because of its strict adherence to ideological purity and intolerance to deviation from the party’s rigid stance on issue… or, as Republicans love to say, ‘core values.’
“In the aftermath of the Republican Party’s defeat in the 2012 elections, Tea Party leaders are jumping ship. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey left FreedomWorks – which was instrumental in the rise of the Tea Party movement – in the wake of its dismal performance where only a quarter of the Tea Party candidate won.”
Eight years later… déjà vu
Fast forward to 2020. Former President Donald Trump, who won the 2016 election, lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden by 74 electoral votes – 306 to 232 – compared to the Obama-Romney contest eight years earlier, which were 332 to 206.
The big difference is that Romney conceded defeat right after losing Florida while Trump never conceded to this day. He is still challenging the results of the 2020 election. Trump couldn’t believe that he lost the election. He was reportedly shell-shocked by the sudden turn of events as states began reporting the election results.
It’s interesting to note that like in 2012, the Republicans resorted to “voter suppression” tactics in 2020. However, the courts – state and federal, including the Supreme Court — rejected the lawsuits brought by Trump and his supporters who challenged the election results. Trump claimed massive use of “voter fraud” but it never gained traction. More than 60 lawsuits alleging voter fraud were rejected for lack of merit.
In an attempt to overturn the Electoral College votes, Trump gathered his supporters in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021 and incited them to march to the US Capitol to stop Congress from certifying the electoral votes. A riotous insurrection ensued. It was a coup attempt to install Trump as president. It failed.
Recently, Republicans in 47 state legislatures have filed legislation to control elections in their state. Georgia was the first state to do so successfully on March 26. Governor Brian Kemp unhesitatingly signed the bill into law behind closed door witnessed by six white male Republican legislators.
Immediately, several civil rights and voter rights groups filed lawsuits challenging the new Georgia election law, which many civil rights leaders have compared it to the Jim Crow era.
The new law makes it harder for Georgians to register and vote. It allows for unlimited challenges to a voter’s registration. It requires voters to provide their driver’s license, state ID number or a photocopy of their ID to cast a mail-in ballot. It bans third-party groups from sending absentee-ballot applications to voters. It ends the use of portable polling sites. It criminalizes offering food and water to individuals waiting in line to vote. And most importantly, it strips the secretary of state, Georgia’s top elections official, of his role as chair of the state election board, and gives the state legislature the power to fill three of that board’s five seats. It essentially gives the state legislature control over the certification of elections and voting rules in the state.
Leaderless and rudderless, the Republican Party seems like it is about to implode. A lot of Republicans are disillusioned. Many have changed their party affiliations. They believe that the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln has lost its vision and moral compass. The party needs an extreme makeover to survive and remain a viable political party.
Quo vadis, Republican Party?