"Republicans in power would seldom even consider a major infrastructure program with an eye toward their core constituencies, or major spending to bring strategic or high-wage sectors back to the Heartland," says Julius Krein, as he examines the GOP's "constituency problem."

Since the end of the Cold War—and Ronald Reagan’s presidency—Republicans have won only one of eight presidential popular votes (George W. Bush’s narrow win in 2004). Republican candidates of course won two additional electoral college victories during this period: George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016. On the whole, however, it is increasingly doubtful whether the GOP as presently constructed is capable of winning a national popular vote, or if it is even trying to do so. Today, the party essentially has no positive policy agenda, garners little support among America’s leading corporations in Silicon Valley or on Wall Street and is almost completely marginalized from academia, Hollywood, and mainstream media.

Despite these obstacles, both of Donald Trump’s campaigns revealed possible paths back to national majorities. In 2016, Trump broke the Democrats’ “blue wall” in the Upper Midwest. In 2020, he made significant inroads among nonwhite working-class voters, demonstrating that any “demographic destiny” predictions may be less certain than previously thought. Nevertheless, the Trump administration was too chaotic and incoherent to consolidate any larger “populist” realignment. Instead, the violent denouement of the Trump presidency further deepened an already growing divide between the Republican base and party elites: at this point it is almost impossible for Republican politicians to appeal to the party’s “populist” wing—now defined largely around Trump’s scandals—without alienating the GOP’s (ever fewer) “respectable” donors and business constituencies, and vice versa. Under these circumstances, even when Republicans can win at the national level, it is very difficult for them to pursue any substantive agenda.

These problems are not merely issues of “communication,” the perennial response of DC consultants. Nor are they simply matters of ideology or even policy. At bottom, the Republican Party faces what might be called a crisis of constituency: the party in its current form cannot serve the constituencies it has, much less those it would need to assemble an electoral majority.

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