Arvanitakis on American politics: The future of the Republican Party

| April 24, 2021

A Pew Research Centre poll released on Thursday this week highlighted some of the growing gaps between Republican and Democrats on yet another issue: access to voting. The poll found that since the 2020 election, partisanship has emerged over election rules and procedures – both at the state and federal levels.

While a significant majority favour a number of policies aimed at making it easier for citizens to register and vote, as well as a requirement that voters be required to show government-issued photo identification before voting, other areas of disagreement are emerging along party lines – and the shift is mainly due to changing attitudes by Republicans.

For example, since 2018 there has been a decline in the share of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who support automatically registering all eligible citizens to vote: from 49 percent in 2018 to 38 percent today.

In addition, the share of Republicans who say voters should be allowed to vote early or absentee without a documented reason has fallen 19 percentage points: from 57 percent to 38 percent.

In contrast, Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents have remained steady over the last few years with 82 percent supporting automatically registering all eligible citizens to vote and 84 percent supporting no-excuse early voting.

There is no doubt these positions taken by Republican voters reflect support for former President Trump and show he continues to hold sway over the Party base: these are all issues he rallied against and claimed, without evidence, they led to voter fraud.

Culture Wars

This continued support by Republicans for the Trump agenda is playing out in many ways. As Lisa Lerer wrote for the New York Times:

During the first months of the Biden administration, Republicans have been consumed with issues like so-called cancel culture, re-litigating the election and corporate “wokeness.” Those culture-war topics fire up the conservative base, leading to interview requests and campaign cash for Republican candidates and politicians.

With Biden is pushing ahead with a relatively popular agenda including stimulus, mass vaccinations and withdrawing from Afghanistan, ‘cancel culture’ and ‘wokeness’ are the new enemy for Republicans.

This was highlighted by House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, who recently tweeted a video of himself reading from Dr. Seuss in the days after the author’s publishing house announced it was discontinuing several books that contained racist imagery.

Even the British Royals have become a cultural battle ground with former Trump aide Stephen Miller, launching a Twitter defence of Buckingham Palace after Meaghan Markle alleged racist treatment by an unnamed member of the monarchy.

The Republican Party must ask itself how many votes there are in siding with the disenfranchised. While this obviously worked for the Trump Campaign in 2016, they need to remember they did lose the 2020 election.

The question is, then, will the GOP continue to be captured by the Trump base or will they attempt to re-claim their identity? Recent events show that what is happening publicly and what is happening privately may well be diverging.

Liz Cheney

A recent feature by the New York Times describes in detail a recent meeting of Republican members at the Capitol which might provide some insights.

The article takes to one of the regular mundane weekly gatherings overseen by key party leaders: The House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, the minority whip Steve Scalise and the conference chairwoman, Liz Cheney.

The meetings tend run smoothly and are relatively brief affairs but on 3 February, nearly all of the GOP’s 210 House members attended and the meeting lasted for four hours.

The focus was on whether Cheney should be removed from her leadership position following her support for the second Trump impeachment associated with his supporters’ storming the Capitol. While Cheney was one of only 10 House Republicans to do so, she was the only member of the party’s leadership to take this position. Her position was clear:

There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.

Cheney was the only House Republicans mentioned by Trump in his speech earlier when he told his supporters: “The Liz Cheney’s of the world, we got to get rid of them.”

As such, dozens spoke against her over the long meeting. When it was Cheney’s turn to speak, the Wyoming congresswoman did not take a backward step nor apologise. Cheney described her lifelong reverence for the House, where her father, Dick Cheney, was minority whip before serving as George H.W. Bush’s secretary of defence and then became George W. Bush’s vice president.

Her words echoed throughout the meeting when she stated: I am “deeply, deeply concerned about where our party is headed… We cannot become the party of QAnon. We cannot become the party of Holocaust denial. We cannot become the party of white supremacy. We all watched in horror with what happened on Jan. 6.”

As the meeting ended, minority leader Kevin McCarthy suggested that they put this matter behind them and adjourn. Cheney, however, insisted that the conference vote on her status right then and there. The result: when members cast their secret ballots Cheney prevailed 145 to 61.

Publicly not many will criticise Trump. Behind the scenes, the party may well be slowly moving past him. Only time will tell.