The Republican Party’s “appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only,” according to a report by the Republican National Committee’s Growth and Opportunity Project. The project was launched by former RNC Chairman and current White House Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, after the 2012 election to devise “a plan to grow the party.” The report recognizes that minority and women voters have a negative image of the GOP. Some of its recommendations to attract these voters to the party are “tailoring a message that is non-inflammatory and inclusive to all,” supporting immigration reform, connecting with black communities and letting women know the GOP is “fighting for them.” The recommendations are well intended and would help the party if it was not for the GOP’s continued support for President Donald Trump. By backing the president at every turn, Republicans are at risk of having their already unfavorable image further damaged by Trump’s divisive and exclusionary policies, his attacks on minorities, and his comments and behavior toward women.
The problem the GOP faces is that its message has not adjusted to the changing demographics of the U.S. The report estimates that the minority groups that overwhelmingly voted Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 “are on track to become a majority of the nation’s population by 2050.” This projection is backed by the U.S. Census Bureau. The report also states that women constituted about 53% of the 2012 electorate.
The majority of black, Hispanic, and women voters not only supported Obama but tend to cast their ballots for Democratic presidential candidates, a fact that the report acknowledges as an issue for the GOP. The project found that minorities tend to think that “Republicans do not like them or want then in the country.” As mention above, the report recommends that the party advance immigration reform and use of a more inclusive language. However, the recommendations went down the drain when Trump became the Republican candidate. If the GOP hoped to improve its image after the 2012 election by changing its message, the efforts were in vain. Furthermore, any incipient attempt at recasting the party’s message was obliterated by Trump’s comments about Mexicans, the Muslim travel ban, his rhetoric on securing the borders and the new guidelines expanding the number of people who can be removed from the country.
It could be said that despite the report’s bleak assessment and Trump’s rhetoric, Republicans still won the White House. It could be said that the increasingly important Hispanic vote was not as necessary for them to win the presidency as previously thought. After all, Trump received 28% of the Hispanic vote compared with Mitt Romney’s 27% and John McCain’s 31%. It could be said that they did not need a majority of the black, women or popular vote to win either.
However, this assessment is misleading for two reasons. First, Hispanics are expected to account for 28.6% of the population by mid-century (Hispanics accounted for 17.6% of the population in 2014). This is a significant share of the population who tends to believe Republicans dislike them and who tends to vote Democrat. Second, it is safe to say that the disparity between the popular and electoral vote in the 2016 election was an uncommon occurrence. This has happened only five times in the 228-year electoral history of the U.S. Continuously losing the popular vote is one of the concerns the RNC report expresses. Certainly, Republicans are not expecting it to happen again in 2020 and, for the sake of democracy, neither should anyone else. Taking into account the above electoral trends and voting patterns, Trump’s election was not a refutation of the report’s assessments but an anomaly.
The GOP should keep the recommendations of the Growth and Opportunity Project in mind. If the fact that the report is still available at the GOP website is any indication, they are keeping them in mind, just not acting on them. The party is supporting Trump or making excuses for his rhetoric and policies. It has been proven difficult to contain Trump’s behavior and comments. But, the GOP needs to be the leash that keeps the president in check. Thus far, the party has failed to be such a restraining force in its desire to win the White House and, later, to show a unify front behind the president. By backing Trump, the GOP is reinforcing the image the report showcases as the problem the party has when it comes to reaching minorities and women, the same image that has made them lose the popular vote in six out of the last seven election. If they truly wish to become more appealing to an increasingly diverse population, Republicans need to find a way to curb Trump’s divisive rhetoric and policies or to have the courage to criticize and to oppose him when necessary.
If some Republicans do not care about appealing to a more diverse population, there is another image problem Trump is causing GOP. The Republican Party is known as a well-organized, disciplined party. It is also the personal-responsibility party. Trump has none of these attributes. Five months after the inauguration, many cabinet positions remained unfilled. Several media outlets have describe the White House as being in a state of chaos. The president continues to use social media to express whatever is on his mind. Trump also does not take any responsibility for any of his comments, actions, policies and, most importantly, failures (e.g., the Muslim travel ban or the health care bill to replace the Affordable Care Act). Trump is the most unlikely standard-bearer for the GOP, one who does not have any of the characteristics Republicans seem to cherish in a candidate.
To be fair, Trump’s rise during the primaries took many in the GOP by surprise. It took many people by surprise. The party was in a difficult position, unify and support Trump or divide and spend another four years out of the White House. As it was to be expected, they chose to support Trump. They also thought they could tame him but failed miserably. The time has come for the GOP to stand up to Trump. Otherwise, Republicans will continue to have problems effacing their image as the party who dislike minorities and does not fight for women.