Is the GOP About to Disintegrate?

Is the GOP About to Disintegrate?

By Grover Norquist


Don’t count your donkeys before they hatch. 

Grover Norquist

Grover Norquist

The usually restrained Fareed Zakaria recently wrote an entire column insisting the GOP was certain to become history.

I have read that column before.

In 1964 after the Goldwater defeat; in 1974 after Watergate; in 1986, after Iran-Contra and the Democratic recapture of the Senate; in 1992, with the defeat of George H.W. Bush; and in 2008, after Obama, the same refrain was repeated with undisguised glee. The cheerleaders for the party of big government have long hoped for the day when the opposition party would collapse and be replaced by the political equivalent of the Washington Generals — the basketball team whose lifework was to lose cheerfully to the Harlem Globetrotters.

Despite the best efforts of labor unions, trial lawyers and beneficiaries of government spending, the Republicans have not disintegrated, as predicted; and despite what sometimes appear to be the best efforts of Donald J. Trump, the Republicans will not disintegrate in or after 2016.

Indeed, those predicting that the Republicans will go the way of the Whigs start with six cardinal false beliefs — or false hopes.

Myth No. 1: The GOP is fragile, and one hard blow will shatter it.

False. Look at a map, and you’ll see that the Republicans’ bench is stronger and deeper than the Democrats’.

Of the 50 states, 31 have Republican governors. There are 99 state legislative bodies in the United States; two-thirds of them are run by Republicans. In 31 states, Republicans control both houses of the state legislature. In 23 states, Republicans control both the governorship and both houses of the legislature. Democrats control the governorship and state legislature in all of seven states.

The upcoming election won’t change GOP state dominance, which provides a solid base for congressional and senate candidates for decades to come. 

Myth No. 2: The troubles of presidential candidate Trump mean the GOP is broken.

False. Trump’s sex tapes do not reflect on other Republicans. Try as they might, Republicans couldn’t transfer the Monica Lewinsky issue from Bill Clinton to any single House or Senate candidate in 1998 or 2000. That scandal did not shatter the Democratic Party.

It’s understandable that political observers focus on the presidency, especially right now. After all, historians name eras according to who was president, and it’s far easier to remember who was president in a given year than which party ran Congress, state legislatures and governors. The Republican Party, in particular, was for more than 60 years driven by the belief that it could never expect to control Congress. So it put all its efforts into winning the White House — the better to protect national defense, and to veto tax-and-spend ideas from a “permanent” Democratic Congress.  

From 1932 to 1994, that strategy made some sense. But since 1994, the Republicans have held Congress more often than the White House. And no matter who wins the White House, the leaders of the Republican Party — its orthodoxy and its soul — will be Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. Real power in Washington has, in peacetime, resided, as the Constitution expected and directed, in Congress. A Republican Congress will no more take direction from Trump than it would Hillary. It learned how to govern against Clinton and Obama, and it sees that taking a backseat to George W. Bush was a mistake not to be repeated. 

Myth No. 3: The present Republican Party is divided on key issues.

Not true since the era of the Rockefeller Republican, and one has to be pretty old to remember that. Back then, many Republican candidates and officials aimed to expand the welfare state and to raise taxes. No longer.

Today, Republicans are united in their opposition to tax increases. About 90 percent of Congressional Republicans have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge to oppose any and all tax hikes. They have kept that pledge and stared down Obama in 2011 and 2012, forcing federal spending down from 24 percent of GDP to 20 percent. Trump and Speaker Ryan have put forward dramatic tax reduction plans that are mirror images of each other’s. They call for territoriality, lower corporate rates, immediate business expensing, abolition of the Alternative Minimum Tax and the estate tax, and, of course, the reduction of all individual rates.

More unites Republicans than opposition to tax hikes. They oppose the regulatory state, trial-lawyer abuses and government overspending. They are united in their call to abolish Obamacare as step one to move to a consumer-based health care system, and to protect the sharing economy (Uber, Airbnb) from the unions and Democratic Party labor laws. They are united in their commitment to pension reform and education reform that includes fighting against teachers’ unions that stand in the way of charter schools and full parental choice. Support for the Second Amendment, a question only 20 years ago, is a settled issue in the GOP. 

Myth No. 4: Republicans are divided over the key issues of immigration and trade. 

The weak economy has made everyone grumpy. Populists of the right and left blame immigrants and trade deals — or international bankers and trade deals — for slow growth and high unemployment. The Reagan years saw a recovery that averaged 4 percent growth. Obama’s so-called “recovery” translated to 2 percent growth a year. Both recoveries involved trade and immigration.

Only growth can calm the waters in both parties. And trade is key to American agriculture — again, look at the map. That is red territory. And unlike in many previous eras, the business community — from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to Silicon Valley — is united in support of expanded free trade. A handful of Republicans in districts hard hit economically cannot vote for trade deals until their local economy revives. They are not enemies of trade; they are politicians. 

Myth No. 5: There is a Trump wing of the Republican Party.  

Really? Name a Trumpist governor. Or a Trumpist caucus in the House or Senate.  

Myth No. 6: The Democrats do not have such divisions.

False. The Democrats are divided on trade, labor and other issues. The modern Democratic Party is funded partly by the hundreds of millions of labor union dollars that flow from more than $7 billion in annual dues, not from Soros’ might. That party cannot support education reform or pension reform. It cannot stand with Silicon Valley on trade or high-tech immigration. Or with the sharing economy, independent contractors and entrepreneurs. The unions say no. Such divisions are often disguised by divided a government at the national level, but they’re exposed in Chicago, Detroit and New York City. 

Should Trump win in November, the Republican Party will pass its Reaganite agenda on taxes, spending, tort law, labor law and energy. Immigration and trade will become easier issues with growth. Should Hillary win in November, the House will stop Hillary’s tax-and-spending plans — just as it did Obama’s — and we will see Republican states continue their drive for lower taxes, education reform, pensions reform, criminal justice reform, tort reform and support for the sharing economy.

If Trump loses in November, it will be the result of self-inflicted wounds of a decidedly personal nature. He is not losing any votes because of those positions he shares with Reagan or Ryan or McConnell. It would be a lonely defeat. Prospects of a GOP implosion are wishful thinking by Democrats with short memories and a handful of disappointed Republicans convinced that without their personal leadership, the world will end.

Grover Norquist

Grover Norquist