Why Can’t the Republican Party Quit Donald Trump?


For years, but especially since Mr. Biden’s victory, the transformation of the Republican Party into what Ms. Cheney called an “anti-democratic Trump cult of personality” has fueled predictions of its imminent collapse. But there are more than a few reasons to think Trumpism could once again carry the party to victory and remain in power for a long time.

A realignment in the electorate: Even as the G.O.P.’s politics of racial grievance became more overt under Mr. Trump — it was birtherism that catapulted his political career, as the Times columnist Jamelle Bouie reminded readers in January — the American electorate has become less polarized around racial lines. At the same time, it has become more polarized by educational attainment. According to David Shor, the head of data science at OpenLabs, support for Democrats increased from 2016 by seven percentage points among white college graduates in the 2020 election but fell by one to two points among African-Americans, roughly five points among Asian-Americans and by eight to nine points among Hispanic Americans.

Why? One explanation is that college-educated voters are less likely to identify as moderates. “As Democrats have traded non-college-educated voters for college-educated ones, white liberals’ share of voice and clout in the Democratic Party has gone up,” Mr. Shor told New York magazine. “And since white voters are sorting on ideology more than nonwhite voters, we’ve ended up in a situation where white liberals are more left wing than Black and Hispanic Democrats on pretty much every issue.”

Institutional advantage: Nonwhite and Hispanic voters still vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, but even a small decline in their support may be enough for Republicans to retake control of the government. That’s in part because our representative institutions are tilted in favor of the G.O.P., enabling it to win control of the White House and Congress without winning a majority of votes and insulating the party from popular opinion. The Republican advantage is likely to become even more pronounced after the 2020 census is tabulated and congressional districts are redrawn.

The polluted information environment: According to a CNN poll released this month, 70 percent of Republicans still say Biden did not legitimately win the presidential election. As The Times’s Maggie Astor reported, the Republican Party’s embrace of Mr. Trump’s election lies has played a key role in the push to pass restrictive voting laws around the country. Lawmakers in at least 33 states have cited low public confidence in election integrity in their public comments as a justification for such bills, according to a tally by The New York Times, and in several states the bills have already been signed into law.

“It’s like a perpetual motion machine — you create the fear of fraud out of vapors and then cut down on people’s votes because of the fog you’ve created,” said Michael Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. “Politicians, for partisan purposes, lied to supporters about widespread fraud. The supporters believe the lies, and then that belief creates this rationale for the politicians to say, ‘Well, I know it’s not really true, but look how worried everybody is.’”

Unlike gerrymandering or congressional malapportionment, the decline in Republican trust in American elections is a problem with no simple legislative solution. “If enough people believe that a government is not elected legitimately, that’s a huge problem for democracy,” Keith A. Darden, a political science professor at American University in Washington, told The Times last year. “Once reality gets degraded, it’s really hard to get it back.”

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