Can Republicans Win Through Subtraction?


Last year I was talking politics with a Republican friend of mine, and noted with interest the number of Democratic voters Governor Doug Burgum (then a gubernatorial candidate) had drawn to the Republican primary ticket.

In most recent June primary votes Republicans had a ratio advantage over Democrats of about 1.5 to 2 voters picking the Republican ballot for every one picking the Democratic side. But in the June 2016 election there were more than 5 Republican voters for every Democratic voter.

“That’s how you win,” my friend told me. “Through addition.”

His point was that political movements are successful when they draw supporters in rather than pushing them away. Too often these movements become purity tests. An exercise in determining who is sufficiently conservative enough (or libertarian or progressive or green, as the case may be) to belong.

When that happens the movements fail.

That may be happening to Republicans right now.

Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, at one time in his career considered to be a rising conservative star, has announced that he won’t be running for re-election. He intimated during a fiery speech on the Senate floor that there isn’t currently a place for someone like him in the Republican party:

Is this how Republicans win? By driving people like Jeff Flake, not to mention Senators John McCain and Bob Corker, out of the party?

Ironically, President Donald Trump was elected in no small part because traditional Democratic voters such as union members crossed the partisan divide to cast their ballots for him. Though he didn’t win the popular vote, he did win the Electoral College vote because he reached out to voters not typically inclined to vote Republican and persuaded them.

But what good is adding new people to your movement if it drives out the people who were already there?

A big tent is one thing, but I’ll admit to wondering if there is any tent I want to be in with the likes of Senate candidate Roy Moore in Alabama. This anti-Muslim bigot who equivocates on whether homosexuals ought to be executed and thinks the Supreme Court ruling striking down gay marriage bans was worse than the Dred Scott decision has become something of a darling of Republicans.

I’m not talking about fringe Republicans either. Senators Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Ted Cruz have all endorsed the man.

Flake has been criticized for retreating instead of staying to fight for his convictions. If Trump is as bad as Flake says – he accused POTUS of a “flagrant disregard for truth or decency” – then why surrender to him?

That’s valid criticism. But then, Flake is a U.S. Senator. He’s in a different position from rank and file Republicans. An expectation that he stay and fight is understandable.

Rank and file party members have no such expectations.

How many traditionally Republican voters are asking themselves if there is a place in the GOP for them today?

That’s a question Trump supporters ought to be asking themselves as they cheer this purge of “the establishment” from the party.