What comes next for the GOP

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We’re sending most of the paper off to the printer before the election results come in, so as of this writing, we have no idea who won the most important presidential election so far this century.

It’s been exciting in North Carolina as our battleground status inspired dozens of visits from candidates starting way back in primary season, with an unusual amount of top-ticket campaign activity in the Triad.

It’s hard to know if the political acrimony between the factions in North Carolina is a result of the hardball campaigning we’ve seen all the way down the ticket, or if the campaigning merely reflects the polarized zeitgeist in our state right now. Once again North Carolina sits atop a bitter divide. We don’t need the election results to make that call.

Has it always been this way? Jesse Helms was able to build his political empire on the power of 51 percent of the vote. And he never seemed to care much about the other 49.

But this is not Jesse Helms’ North Carolina; his tarnished legacy fades more each day, as the demographic shifts against what was once the sole domain of white people, and before that, white men.

And as the GOP platform looks ever backwards, their party becomes a tougher sell.

After the 2012 election, an internal Republican postmortem reasoned that without increasing the party’s appeal to women and Latinos, it could not survive more than a few election cycles.

Four years later they give us Donald Trump, with his tiny, grabbing hands and his wall.

Even transplanted Northerners — the “halfbacks,” identified as a key demographic in NC this cycle — who have voted Republican all their lives don’t necessarily buy into this branch of the GOP, which seems less centered around free-market capitalism and more on social issues and racism. Because in the South and elsewhere, as free-market capitalism fails more and more working-class whites, the party needs to scapegoat minorities and exploit social issues to maintain its appeal to its core constituency.

Still, no matter who wins the White House, the Senate seat, the Governor’s Mansion or the council of state seats, the General Assembly in Raleigh will still be controlled by Republicans.

Politically speaking, a move to the center is the easiest way to mitigate the party’s problem of diminishing returns, finding common ground with more North Carolinians and bringing them — and, this is key, their interests — into the fold.

The hard way would be to try to keep gerrymandering the districts, juggling the numbers to marginalize the majority, and preventing people from voting — but we’ve been getting flagged for stuff like that a lot lately. And even those moves serve only to delay the eventual end.