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The reports of the Republican Party's death have been greatly exaggerated

Oct 11, 2016

Type some words like “will the Republican Party survive this election” into any search engine, and you’ll find stories predicting its coming collapse.

Without any doubt, the GOP is now being torn by an internal civil war, and most of its key figures privately or publicly have written off Donald Trump’s chances.


Actually, it’s not at all clear that many of them really wanted Trump to win in the first place.

He’s not one of the boys, his conservative credentials are suspect, and they worry about his policies. Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley, who this summer told me it was essential that Trump be elected because of possible vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court, has now repudiated him.

Instead, Calley will write in the name of vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence, which seems like a particularly odd way to waste a vote, since Pence is only on the ticket because Donald Trump put him there.

Indeed, there has never been an election in which a major party nominee was repudiated by so many members of his own party.

However, it’s time for a reality check here.

Donald Trump may be toast – though with four weeks left in this campaign, it is even too early to say that. But even if he loses by a landslide, it will mean almost nothing.

Nothing, that is, in terms of the long-term future of the Republican Party.

More than three-fifths of the nation's governors are Republicans. Republicans control many more state legislatures than Democrats.

Consider this: More than three-fifths of the nation’s governors are Republicans. Republicans control many more state legislatures than Democrats. In twenty-three states, including Michigan and Ohio, they hold both the governorship and both houses of the legislature.

That’s not likely to change very much.

Republicans also currently control both Houses of Congress. Democrats do have a fifty-fifty chance at winning narrow control of the U.S. Senate. But the odds are stacked against their winning the House. And even if Democrats do win the Senate, they may lose it again in two years, when they will have many more vulnerable seats on the line.

Trump, it is true, looks like a loser right now. In terms of the Electoral College, however, even the more pessimistic forecasts say he’s likely to win twenty or so states, and around 180 electoral votes.

Historically, that’s not all that terrible a showing.

Republican Barry Goldwater won only six small states in 1964, and less than 40% of the popular vote. Worse, Democrats won greater than two to one majorities in both houses of Congress. People then really did think the Republicans might become extinct.

But Republicans won the very next presidential election. Democrats have been even more resilient. Eight years after Goldwater’s debacle, the Democratic presidential candidate won only one state. But once again, Democrats won the next presidential election.

But if you are waiting for a third party to replace either of the others, forget it.

Now cycles do change, and party realignments occasionally happen. But if you are waiting for a third party to replace either of the others, forget it. Let’s say a massive protest vote did put the Libertarian or Green candidate in the White House.

They would face a Congress with two kinds of people, Republican and Democrats. They’d have to essentially affiliate with one or the other. We’ve been doing this dance, with some variations, since the year 1800.

Expect it to go on a while longer.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.