Medved: GOP heading to irrelevance as party fails to embrace demographic changes

Aug 31, 2023, 3:59 PM

medved populism...

US President Donald Trump shows a photo of the border wall upon arrival at the US Border Patrol station in Yuma, Arizona, June 23, 2020, as he travels to visit the border wall with Mexico. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

(Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

The populist ideas and attitudes that have increasingly infected the Republican party will lead it toward political irrelevance and demographic disaster.

Populism inevitably emphasizes an us-versus-them view of reality, with claims of victimhood and exploitation that promote paralyzing resentments. By separating society into a pure-hearted but powerless populace, perpetually oppressed by arrogant elites and a ruthless ruling class, the angry advocates push the painful polarization that has recently amounted to an American affliction.

The spreading speculation about a new civil war isn’t based on regionalism this time, but on distinctions in education and identity in which conservatives have branded themselves as a distinct minority that is dwindling, if not doomed.

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Consider the heavy reliance of all the Trump campaigns – in 2016, 2020 and 2024 – on white voters without college degrees. According to exit polls, this group represented 35% of the electorate in 2020 and Trump won their support in a landslide – 67% to Biden’s 32% – without which the Republican nominee would have been buried among the overall electorate. The point isn’t that white, blue-collar voters count as less worthy than their university-educated peers, but rather that those with no college background are becoming far less numerous.

As recently as 1960, only 7.7% of American adults had graduated from college, but by 2020 that number had swelled to 37.9%. Any party attempting to build an American majority based on that segment of the population that’s never completed college is bucking one of the most durable, undeniable demographic trends of the last half-century.

Then there is the matter of race. In 2020, the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, won 58% of white voters but still lost the popular vote by a margin of more than 7 million. Forty years earlier, in 1980, Ronald Reagan won a slightly smaller percentage of whites (56%) but swept the popular vote by a crushing margin of nearly 9 million. How? Because whites represented 88% of Reagan’s electorate, but only 67% of Trump’s. White Anglo voters are already a minority in some major states (California, most prominently) and the rest of the country is certain to follow within a generation. If the GOP maintains even vague hints of racism or nativism in its policies or attitudes, the ability to win in an increasingly diverse federal union will not only decline, but disappear.

It’s worth acknowledging that the evolving ethnicity of the United States bears an obvious connection to issues of immigration. The population growth among people of color almost entirely reflects increases in the Latino and Asian populations, since the Black percentage of the vote has remained mostly consistent (10% in 1980; 13% in 2020).

Not all of the Hispanic or Asian voters have personally immigrated to this country from elsewhere, but the great majority of them have parents, grandparents or cousins who have. As a result, any disrespect for recent new ethnic enclaves or flirtation with repeal of the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of birthright citizenship may exert nativist appeal to MAGA minions but will do little to win the backing of recent arrivals or their relatives.

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Finally, shifts in religious orientation also serve to undermine the populist project to rally the Christian faithful and to foster a sense of persecution and insecurity in religious believers of every kind. As recently as 2004 only 10% of voters in exit polls described themselves as lacking religious affiliation of any kind, but that percentage more than doubled (to 22%) by 2020, and nearly two-thirds of these “nones” voted for Joe Biden (65%). An avalanche of recent polling reports indicates growing disillusionment with religiosity overall, along with declining church attendance — a trend that applies to the heartland almost as much as it does to the coastal elite cities.

The principal problem for populism is that demographic developments make its precepts increasingly unpopular. There’s always been an edge of anger and indignation to the conviction that ordinary and decent citizens must unite to defend themselves against the arrogant abuse of distant, foreign-born, conspiratorial elites. After all, the great populist orator William Jennings Bryan won the Democratic presidential nomination in 1896 by thundering against the Republican defense of the gold standard by applying Biblical resonance: “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

Yet even in that distant era, majorities of Americans preferred not to count themselves among the abused and battered (Bryan lost three times as a Presidential nominee!), and far more voters counted themselves as aspiring rather than aggrieved. In 2024 and beyond, most voters will remain committed to the traditional American characteristics of optimism and self-improvement and will more likely align with the confidence above the complaining.

Listen to Michael Medved weekday afternoons from 12-3 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3).

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Medved: GOP heading to irrelevance as party fails to embrace demographic changes