Things Are Much Worse Than They Look For The Republican Party
The Presidential election is nearing, and things aren’t looking good for the Republican party. FiveThirtyEight gives the Democrats an 80% chance of taking the White House; the Economist is even more bullish, estimating an 89% chance. While there is still enough time for a large shift, things are looking increasingly bleak for Donald Trump. Worse yet, 538 also gives Democrats the edge to take control of the Senate (63% chance).
For Republicans, it may be easy to write this off election as voter pushback against a somewhat unpopular Donald Trump. This view — that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the party or their strategy — is convincing in its simplicity. However, a closer look at the number shows a more troubling trend. The ground seems to be moving from under them in a way that could shift the entire political landscape.
Big Red States Turning Purple
Texas and Arizona have been Republican strongholds in recent years. But recently, these states have been looking increasingly likely to swing to the Democrats. Despite a weak performance overall, Hillary Clinton lost by the smallest margin in Texas since her husband Bill Clinton was President.
Of course, Trump still won by a roughly 9-point margin — which doesn’t look too close for comfort from a Republican perspective. But the 538 polling average gives Trump just a 1.6 point lead in the state at present. While it’s still unlikely, it’s no longer inconceivable that Texas could go blue.
Even if Biden did somehow win Texas in 2020, most senior Republican leaders would likely write it off as simply a bad election or bad candidate. But when looking at Presidential election results back to 2000, it begins to look like a trend.
Arizona is something of a similar story. Since the 1952 Presidential election, Arizona has turned blue just once — in 1996, when Bill Clinton beat Republican Bob Dole in a landslide nationally. Even then, Clinton won the state by just a 2-point margin.
Again, Hillary Clinton achieved the best result since Bill’s 1996 victory — losing the state by just 3.5%.
Biden looks poised to do even better. The 538 polling average currently suggests he has a 4-point lead in the state and is likely to carry it in the election. This represents a monumental shift — a state once considered safely Republican now looks likely to vote Democrat (possibly by a sizable margin).
But What If It’s Just Trump?
Yet, even in light of this, a reasonable observer may speculate that it’s merely Trump. Perhaps these still are truly red states, but Trump’s unpopularity is pushing them temporarily towards the Democrats. In fairness, if you removed the 2016 result and ignored the likely result from 2020, both states do still look safely Republican.
So how have Republicans fared that aren’t named Donald Trump? For this, we can look to Senate races. Before 2019, neither state had seen a Democratic Senator since the mid nineties. It was completely normal for Republicans to blow out Democratic challengers from anywhere from 10 to even over 30 points in the most extreme cases. But things have taken a significant shift:
Senate races have become increasingly competitive. From 1990 to 2010, no Senate race was decided by less than a 9-point margin. Since then, 3 races have been. In 2018, Kyrsten Sinema became the first Democrat to win a Senate election in Arizona since 1988. Democrat Mark Kelly is looking likely to join her within a few months.
While Texas retained two Republican Senators, Democrat Beto O’Rourke came within 3 points of ousting Ted Cruz in 2018 — the best Democratic Senate election in Texas since 1988.
The Case Is Better For Arizona
To be clear — Arizona has much stronger case as a new swing state. In a few months, Arizona will very possibly have two Democratic Senators and have gone Democrat in the Presidential election as well. That’s a very difficult result to write off as a bad candidate or a bad year.
Texas has shown some interesting flashes of turning purple, but it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario where Texas remains solidly red. The 2020 Senate race is looking quite likely to go Republican. But at the very least, elections in Texas are starting to look within reach for Democrats — something that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
The implications for the Republican party are stark. Together, Arizona and Texas carry 49 electoral votes in the upcoming election (Texas alone has 38). That’s enough to flip any recent Republican electoral college victory.
Of course, Texas has yet to actually turn Democrat in any major election. However, it may not need to. Republicans are increasingly relying on small, sparsely populated states to form their base. This has been a major advantage in capturing the Senate, but does much less to help them in Presidential elections. Among the four largest states (California, Texas, Florida, and New York), two are Democrat strongholds that Republicans have no immediate hope of breaching (California and New York). Florida is widely considered a battleground state — albeit perhaps a slightly Republican-leaning one at this point. With both Florida and Texas capable of flip-flopping, the deck will be stacked against them. So if Texas begins to look even kind-of purple, Republicans will likely be forced to shift their platform and strategy to re-capture it — most likely to the left.