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United States: the choices of the Republican Party

May 17, 2022

A priori everything seems to smile at the Republican party. President Biden’s popularity remains very low and the ruling Democratic Party is struggling to overcome its divisions between its left wing and its centrist majority. As a result, the intermediate elections next November (midterms) promise to be a triumphant success and the party’s candidate has a good chance of winning the 2024 presidential elections.

However, the Grand Old Party (GOP) has not overcome the dangers of excessive influence from Donald Trump’s supporters and has not managed to define a new identity that would guarantee it the support of the centrist fraction of public opinion. The crisis of American democracy is also, to a large extent, that of the Republican party.

Opinion increasingly favorable to the Republicans

Opinion polls are hard on Democrats. According to the Five Thirty Eight website, Biden’s popularity rating in all polls shows a 10-point gap between favorable (42%) and unfavorable (52%) opinions. Concerning the midterms, a majority believe it would be better for the country if Congress were to be controlled by Republicans. The main reason for voters’ dissatisfaction is the high level of inflation, which amounts to around 8% on an annual basis, while wages are rising much more slowly, so much so that the purchasing power of the vast majority of citizens is in decrease. This situation contrasts with the four years of Trump’s mandate during which the standard of living of all categories of the population has improved. It is therefore not surprising that in a survey published by the washington post of May 1, 50% of voters believe that the Republican Party is the best suited to manage the economy and fight inflation against only 36% for the Democrats.

What is even more worrying for the latter is the weakening of their once dominant positions in the Latino electorate which represents around 16% of the electorate. This one tends more and more to vote republican, in particular in Texas and in Florida, two important States because of their demographic and economic weight but which seem out of reach for the Democrats.

The various opinion polls paint a much more favorable picture for the Republican Party. This one is more credible than his adversary with regard to the management of the economy and the fight against inflation. Moreover, despite Biden’s efforts, he retains the support of the majority of unqualified whites, who represent nearly 45% of the electorate, which gives him a definite advantage in Midwestern states such as Michigan or Michigan. ‘Ohio. Under these conditions, he should regain control of the House and the Senate next November, condemning President Biden to total paralysis until the presidential elections of 2024. If we take into account the fact that the majority of the members of the Court Supreme, 6 out of 9, is favorable to the conservative right and that 28 states out of 50 are controlled by the GOP, it is clear that today the Republican Party dominates the American political scene.

The question is nevertheless to know if this situation is permanent or if the handicaps from which the party suffers will end up blocking its ascent.

The major handicap is at the same time the main asset that allowed the party to win the 2016 presidential election, it is Donald Trump. He was beaten in 2020 despite winning six million more votes than in 2016. Since then, and unlike his predecessors, he has remained very active, playing on his great popularity with voters. Republicans who have a favorable opinion of him at more than 70%. He went on to proclaim that the 2020 vote was rigged and that he, not Biden, was elected. In addition, he has decided to give his patronage to hundreds of candidates from his party who are facing primaries across the country. The fact that he is frequently approached by these candidates is an obvious sign that his influence remains strong and even decisive in a certain number of cases.

This situation is far from pleasing to the leaders of the party and in particular to Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republican minority in the Senate. They find that Trump, an out-of-control man, remains the real boss of the GOP and they are concerned that all his statements relate to the so-called electoral fraud of 2020 when inflation and the migration crisis are strong themes of campaign against the Democrats who fail to master neither.

The primaries test

As a result, the first primaries are a test of the power of the former president. On May 3, Ohio was held for a senator’s seat in a state where the Republican Party is dominant. The main candidate was JD Vance, a well-known and controversial character, author of the bestseller Hillbilly Elegant in which he recounts his journey as the son of white proletarians from Appalachia who manages to enter Yale, the American equivalent of our elite schools. Vance had delivered in 2015 to virulent attacks against Trump. In 2022, he completely changes his speech, adheres to all the positions of the former president and is patronized by him. The result is clear, he won the primary with 32% of the vote against 22% for his main competitor.

Since then, other primaries in Nebraska and Wisconsin show that candidates who align themselves with Trump and strongly denounce the 2020 “rigged ballot” have the greatest chance of winning against more reserved opponents. regard to the former president.

Does this mean that he will be the party’s candidate in 2024 and that the rightward drift of the Republicans will continue, which would make any form of collaboration with the Democrats impossible?

To answer these questions, it is necessary to distinguish between Trump’s personal destiny and the ideological underpinnings of the GOP.

Admittedly, Trump retains a loyal following among Republicans, but his position seems to be slowly deteriorating. If 60% of this party’s voters continue to believe that the 2020 election was rigged for Biden’s benefit, only 45% believe that the former president can influence their vote. This percentage is much lower among respondents unregistered (who are not officially affiliated with a party) who represent 40% of the electorate and therefore have a decisive influence.

Republicans’ rightward drift continues

It is therefore not certain that Trump will be able to be present in the 2024 ballot and several potential candidates are beginning to emerge. But what is striking is that none of these applicants dares to move away from the ultra-conservative positions of the former president. The most prominent man in the Republican camp today is Florida Governor Ron de Santis. Young and graduate of Yale and Harvard, his profile is, on the surface, very different from that of Trump. On the other hand, his very ideological positions faithfully reflect the dominant convictions of GOP voters: hostility to abortion, to the rights of sexual minorities, to immigration, to compulsory vaccination against Covid. His operation to “purify” Florida public school libraries by eliminating books deemed dangerous for young people was criticized but did not disturb his electorate, who are preparing to renew him, while waiting to support him in future primaries. presidential.

In a remarkable analysis published in the New Yorker of May 5, Susan Glasser stresses that there is no hope today of seeing the Republican Party distance itself from the excesses encouraged by Trump. Moreover, thanks to an electoral system which favors a party which nevertheless has a minority vote at the national level, it can hope to retain or win key positions in the Senate, in the States and within the electoral college which elects the president. Thus, a less and less democratic minority imposes itself in a country in crisis.

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