There has been some talk about the decline in the GOP. If you are talking only about election results and what it portends for the future, this year can been seen as sign of that decline. The party is losing in areas in which the US is growing, in particular Hispanics. It is also weak on women’s issues. Remember Romney and the 47 percent? The party is tone deaf as to how it sounds to people. This election was a failure for the GOP at the national level, but less so on a local level. Before the election there was much good discussion on how the polls were trending (in particular the NY Time’s reporting). By late October is should have been obvious that Obama was going to win the key states. I was amazed at how surprised GOP operatives were at the results, since reading polls has been a Republican specialty since Nixon’s time. I am sure Republicans can read the tea leaves and see who they need to attract.
What I am more interested in is a longer term decline in the GOP as a party of principle. The fiscal cliff shenanigans show that they no longer have the best interests of the country in mind. News reporters usually wish to split the difference and assume the truth lies equally between the 2 opponents, but in this case the GOP is clearly to blame.
The GOP was always a more unified party than the Democrats. It was the party of the nation’s center, the midwest (the GOP was founded in Ripon, Wisconsin). It was the party that national interests as opposed to states rights. (After all what was the Civil War but a complete attack on the concept of states rights?) It tended to be the party of the smaller towns and cities. It was party of the native born and not the urban immigrant. It was also the party of the anti-slavery movement and to some extent after the civil war the party of civil rights. It supported higher tariffs in the 19th century and a modernized banking system. In the early 20th century the party became the more progressive of the two parties. When the progressive movement died out most of the supporters went back to the GOP. Theodore Roosevelt supported anti-trust laws, business regulation and what must be called the beginning of an environmental movement. The party was a supporter of efficient and prudent government. If that meant raising taxes, so be it.
The 1960’s changed all that. When I lived in Memphis in 2008, I was surprised that none of the people I worked with knew that the South used to be solid for the Democrats. LBJ changed that. I don’t know if he did this for principal or for votes, but he did propose and pass real civil rights legislation. After his experience in 1957 , he knew the old Democratic party would be torn apart by this. The GOP saw this as an opportunity. There is a strong conservative element in the GOP and it was easy to make the message attractive to the Southern Democrats. For a number of years the GOP was giving a very mixed message. Polling as parties do it today was primitive and Nixon tried to be all things to all people. Over time the GOP learned it could win elections by targetting the minimum amount of votes rather than attract all voters. Nixon was the one who formed the EPA, Nixon support OSHA and affirmative action. It was Reagan whose people in a sense rebooted the GOP. The Eastern establishment was out. Environmentalism was dead. The GOP became the party of Western extraction interests (mining, oil drilling etc.). So, it was the party of the lowest cost to business and move one when the resources dry up.
It took a generation for the GOP activists to drive all the moderates out, so John Chafee died a Republican but his son, Lincoln Chafee is an independent.
What is so different with today’s GOP is that it is willing to risk anything to win. It doesn’t have any understanding that we must have stable and continuing government. The willingness to risk the US credit rating is madness.