RIP GOP, Stanley B. Greenberg
RIP GOP: How the New America Is Dooming the Republicans by Stanley B. Greenberg. Photo credit: Greenberg Research and Thomas Dunne Books

The GOP has waged a losing battle against social modernity for decades. Next year Republicans will start paying for it, renowned pollster Stanley Greenberg predicts.

In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, renowned pollster and political consultant Stanley Greenberg, the man who helped get Bill Clinton elected in 1992, predicts the end of the Republican Party as we know it. 

Further, he argues that the US is about to enter a progressive era where the pent-up demand for government action will be reflected in deep civic engagement that will continue well after the 2020 election.

Working with focus groups and demographic and polling data, Greenberg sees a fundamental shift in public consciousness. 

He argues that, while the Democrats can still screw it up, 2020 could be a once-in-a-lifetime realignment in which the Republican battle against demographic change, inevitable multiracialism, and social modernity is finally lost for good. Greenberg’s most recent book is R.I.P. G.O.P: How the New America is Dooming the Republicans. 

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Full Text Transcript:

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Jeff Schechtman: Welcome to the WhoWhatWhy podcast. I’m your host, Jeff Schechtman. There’s an old Danish proverb, that has been over the years attributed to many, that says that it’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future. Nowhere is this more true than in the realm of politics.

Jeff Schechtman: Back in 2004, 15 years ago, distinguished journalists and political scientists, John Judis and Ruy Teixeira, wrote a book called The Emerging Democratic Majority. Since then, we’ve had eight years of George W. Bush, the Tea Party, the election of Donald Trump, and 8 million Americans who voted twice for Barack Obama and then voted for Trump. Now, distinguished pollster and political advisor, Stanley Greenberg adds to his previous body of work in arguing that demography is destiny and that the death of the currently constituted Republican party is inevitable.

Jeff Schechtman: Stanley Greenberg is the coauthor of the New York times bestseller It’s the Middle Class, Stupid! He’s been a polling advisor to presidents, prime ministers and CEOs around the world. It is my pleasure to welcome Stanley Greenberg to the WhoWhatWhy podcast to talk about his new book, looking at the end of the Republican Party, as well as some of the demographic and polling trends leading up to the 2020 election. Stan, thanks so much for joining me once again.

Stanley Greenberg: Indeed. Thanks for having me back and I’m delighted to talk about my dangerous and brave predictions about what will happen in 2020. I will push back just on demographics being destiny because it pained me and in fact, if I want to understand what motivated me to wake up every day to write, you know, what am I doing today to contribute to changing, ending this awful period. Part of it was, I think it was guilt over the fact that the Hillary Clinton campaign believed that theory, even though I didn’t believe that theory, they did. And acted as if the demographics was destiny and also that his offending group after group would produce a democratic engagement. And it was obviously very tragic that that happened. But, what is different though is the mobilization, the engagement, the public consciousness that has been mobilized, escalated by Trump’s victory. And that really changes the dynamic tremendously.

Stanley Greenberg: I mean the demographic trends are accelerating. The percent foreign born in America keeps going up and up to historic levels. The country is more diverse, more metropolitan, more millennial and young. More immigrants, you know, more unmarried, more secular. All the trends that push back against conservative and Republican governance, but that’s not what makes the difference. What makes a difference is that the day after the Women’s March, people organized and they turned out in the off year elections in the biggest turnout probably in the history of the country. Certainly the biggest increase in turnout in the midterm election. Huge turnout and it’s increased since.

Stanley Greenberg: In every election I’ve ever polled in after it happens, after you get the results in, interest in politics drops and then goes up month by month as you enter the next election. Interest today is 10 points higher than it was in November ’18. People just have not disengaged. They’ve engaged further and further. And also there’s been a shift of public consciousness, above all, and immigration. The country has become more multicultural, more pro-immigration every day that Trump pushes his agenda. The country is embracing the opposite. So anyway, that’s what makes me confident.

Jeff Schechtman: To what extent though, is that happening to the degree that it could make a political difference in 32 red states out there that will still probably have Republican senators and even though they will still represent a minority of the country, they’ll represent a majority in the Senate, arguably, and the Electoral College, which very much goes hand in hand with that.

Stanley Greenberg: Look, I’m less worried about the Electoral College because I believe the country, you know, realigned in 2018 and it continued to move, you know, since then. Rural voters, working class voters, let’s focus on working class voters. Light working class voters, you know, women and men, shifted 13 points toward the Democrats from ’16 to ’18 so there was a white working class shift and that’s the reason why you get such a big swing to Democrats congressionally, you know, from Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Kansas. And that was a working class shift and when you look at the data, the swing of white working class women has continued.

Stanley Greenberg: The men are pulling back toward Trump, but not the white working class women. They’re headed towards just single digit win for Republicans. And the majority of the white working class are women. And so there was a realigning election that happened and the trends have increased after the election. History doesn’t stop. And so I’m really not that worried about the [inaudible 00:05:57 battleground states?].

Stanley Greenberg: Now, I never want to have a presidential campaign that takes those voters for granted either as a tactic or in terms of respect. And I think the democratic candidates are running very forcefully to win those voters. And so yes, you’re right to worry about it. I think you’re on the mark when it comes to the Senate because obviously we have a system that is rigged in favor of rural areas and that’s not going to change. And so that even if we have a wave election, we’re going to be just on the edge, you know, winning control in the Senate. I think it can break for us and will break for us in a big wave election, but that’s the role we require. But it does mean that you have these like once in a lifetime, once in a generation chance to move forward and bring the kind of reforms the country is desperate to have.

Jeff Schechtman: To what extent, I mean, it certainly makes sense when you lay out the numbers in a theoretical case, but in a situation where it’s Trump running against a specific person, to what degree is that going to have a profound impact on how this plays out?

Stanley Greenberg: Part of what’s happening is that we focus on what Trump is doing and how much he’s building his base. But we miss how much of what he’s doing is driving the anti-Trump voter to the polls and to cast a vote almost regardless of candidate. I mean, right now, if you look at our polls, we have Bernie Sanders ahead head by five, Trump ahead by seven. Biden ahead by nine. The other polls have bigger margin, but all of those margins are greater or right there or above what Barack Obama had in 2008 when we had a near landslide election with the financial crisis and when he took office with democrats in control of all offices.

Stanley Greenberg: So, almost all our candidates are polling Obama level or better. And the reason is that you have the anti-Trump feeling, you know, let’s start with who’s voting in the Democratic primaries and Republicans. Right now it’s 47% are voting in Democratic primaries, 37% are voting in Republican. So, in terms of who’s following politics, there’s like a 10 point gap in favor of Democrats and people engaging with who the Democratic leader should be.

Stanley Greenberg: The Democrats won the off-year elections with an 8.6% margin, nine point margin. So you’re looking at it like a nine point margin from ’18. Right now the level of engagement with politics has a 10 point edge for Democrats. When you ask Republicans whether they strongly approve of Trump, it’s 65% but if you ask Democrats, their strongly disapprove is 20 points stronger, it’s 85%. Democrats are so anti-Trump and consolidated and engaged that they are giving Democratic candidates regardless of the candidate, regardless of candidate. Trump’s at 41%, only 3% of the Democrats are voting for Trump.

Stanley Greenberg: And certainly it’s the anti-Trump reaction that is driving things. When we show focus groups, so we’ve now done this, when we show Trump his own tweets, we show him at his rallies, we show them at his press conferences, we show it to our unregistered voters, it motivates to them. The best thing we can do for our own voters is simply show Trump. And so Trump is in their face every day and the consequence of that is our people are more engaged. But we also did it with white working-class women in non-metropolitan, mostly rural areas. You know, in Maine, Wisconsin and Nevada. And when the women watch him on TV, they shake their head, they think he’s being a bully, they think he’s divisive. It means he can’t get anything done. And I mean most of them are still voting for him, but they’re pulling back and there is evidence of their pulling back. But, his being in their face every day is making them less likely to vote, less supportive, and so they’ve kind of lost control of their ability to affect events.

Jeff Schechtman: To what extent though, has the number of anti-Trump voters increased in those places that matter? Certainly there’s more anti-Trump voters in states that Hillary Clinton carried but are there enough additional anti-Trump voters in places like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and Michigan and Ohio?

Stanley Greenberg: As you know, in 2016 a lot of our voters disengaged. They were not motivated by Hillary Clinton’s campaign nor did they… She reached out to them in a way that proved motivating. I mean, to be honest, her message was built on the progress, third term of Obama at the same time that Trump was promising to disrupt things and identifying with their lost American jobs and they’re struggling, you know, how much they were struggling financially.

Stanley Greenberg: So, Democrats did not motivate our voters. And I want to be honest, we didn’t motivate our voters for eight decades. I mean, my book is pretty critical of President Obama’s presidency and the failure to understand how much tarp the bailout of the banks was seen as a corrupt bailout, irresponsible, you know, while working people lost our homes, nothing was done about foreclosure. He tried to sell the country on build on the progress. We’re moving in the right economic direction. We know he lost white working class voters very quickly, but he actually lost or saw the disengagement of working class voters across race. So, we had a huge drop in turnout in 2010 and even more in ’14 and so the reason the Republicans had control of so many states was the Democrats seemed to be simply buying out the banks rather than building an economy that works for the middle class and just did not enact the kinds of policies that would benefit the broad middle class. And they paid a very big price for it.

Jeff Schechtman: Talk a little bit about the demographic shift and that is something that has been going on for a while. Have we seen an impact from that in our electoral politics nationally? And is that something we’re going to continue to see particularly as we go into 2020?

Stanley Greenberg: I mean, look, it should be. One is the fact that Democrats are battling for white working class voters in ways that we haven’t done in a while, during the Obama presidency, during the Hillary. Hillary Clinton closed down the campaign in those areas, didn’t do advertising and paid a very high price for it.

Stanley Greenberg: The Democratic party as a whole is so focused on winning as voters, watch all the presidential candidates that are doing that. But we’re also dealing with a country that accepts its multiculturalism, accepts that it’s diverse, believes that it should be engaged in the world, believes in equality and opportunity, believes we have an unfinished agenda to deal with racial and gender inequalities. Above all, believe we need to address the corrupt politics, but it’s built in a growing base that is younger, more diverse, more foreign born and immigrant, and more metropolitan than secular and that has not stopped. That’s accelerated. And so it’s made an available base, the Democrats, that’s clearly a majority of the country.

Stanley Greenberg: And what I think what Trump has done is made Democrats run as self confident about our values, about the fact that we’re diverse and multicultural country. We were an immigrant country and we will welcome immigrants in the future. It enriches us as a country. And if you look at the 2018 election, yes, we lost the governor’s race in Georgia. We lost the governor’s race in Florida. Both were stolen from us, they should’ve been won. But Democrats ran an election where the president was running as an anti-Republican, as an anti-immigrant party against I was fighting that diversity, and the Republicans in those states doing everything possible, visibly to keep blacks from voting. And yet Democrats had a landslide election, came within a few thousand votes of winning Georgia and Florida with African American candidates.

Stanley Greenberg: I just think we should recognize what’s happening. It’s not just the demographic changes. It’s recognize those changes, define our values and our worldview. And now we’re contesting a Republican party that believes immigration, the demographic problem is the central problem facing the country and it will face a shattering defeat in ’20 and that will have huge implications for what kind of country we are.

Jeff Schechtman: Will Rogers once said that he wasn’t a member of any organized political party, he was a Democrat. To what extent can the Democrats mess this up? To what extent can they make mistakes that will in fact play against all of the things you’re talking about, Stan?

Stanley Greenberg: Well, we could do it. I was pretty critical of the Hillary Clinton campaign because above all, for not dealing with the economic pain people were facing, not dealing with the rigged political and economic system or business, where business and politicians have corrupted the system and made it very hard for government to work for the average person.

Stanley Greenberg: I believe that needs to drive our messages and I believe most of the candidates are doing that. But I don’t believe identity policies is motivating for our base of voters. You know, I tried to convince the Hilary Clinton campaign when she was running on ladders of opportunity, which was her theme and also Barack Obama’s theme. And that notion was that inequality was based on the blockages that each group in America face and what we needed to do was create opportunity and block those barriers at the top. But in fact that wasn’t motivating for African Americans in ’16 election and I know it isn’t now. They are most motivated by wanting to get a politician elected who will change the economy, change our politics, and make it work for the average person. They believe they will benefit by electing someone who is going to think big in terms of large investments, creating jobs, addressing inequality, addressing poverty, and then in the process finishing the unfinished job of discrimination that African Americans, Hispanics and women face.

Stanley Greenberg: And I think the Democrats are moving towards that kind of messaging but when I watched it with Hillary Clinton, she was very cautious about a strong economic message. But I’m not sure I see that with any of the candidates. I think all the candidates I look at have a strong economic message. Even Vice President Biden who is running more on continuity is still talking about what’s happened to the middle class. And that’s also part of his message.

Jeff Schechtman: Isn’t there a bit of a booby trap built into the argument for radical change right now among some progressive Democrats in that after four years of Trump, there’s a certain exhaustion, a certain fatigue and arguably a certain desire for some kind of stability without radical change at the moment, even if it’s a sense of continuity as Biden is arguing.

Stanley Greenberg: I don’t see any evidence for that. We need to understand the period we’ve come out of and it’s why I’m confident that the Republicans are going to crash. We’ve had a decade of Tea Party, GOP governance, which has tried to stop government in its tracks. From the moment they took office after the Tea Party wave in 2010, they produced budget austerity in the states, they cut taxes for the rich, cut public spending, cut education, fired teachers. They reduced the federal budget. This rate of spending in the federal budget focused on the deficit. There was nothing that the government can do for a decade to address inequality, wage stagnation, health care costs, prescription drugs, climate change, gun violence. For over a decade we’ve had this building, desperate desire for the country, Democrats in particular but it’s also in the country as a whole, there’s been a surge in the percentage of people saying that government ought to have a bigger role rather than business and individuals. And if you look at almost any question about a government policy, about 75 to 85% of Democrats want it to happen.

Stanley Greenberg: So, after this decade of government being suffocated, there is this pent up demand to attack these issues. And that’s what I believe the public is looking for and I think that’s what you’ll see. And I think that’s what you’ve seen from the various candidates that have been running. Not just in Warren’s plans versus Biden. Look across the Democratic field in terms of what they’re proposing on healthcare, what they’re proposing on climate change, what they’re proposing on guns and the huge hunger for government activism. And I think they’re responding to it.

Jeff Schechtman: Would you talk about the potential demise of the Republican party? Are you talking about it in terms of the national Republican party or how do you see that playing out on our state and local level?

Stanley Greenberg: Republican party had a deep base, first in the deep south and in the south as a whole. You know, they expanded it into the Appalachian Valley and more rural parts of the country where evangelicals and the religiously observant were dominant. And so it was a party of faith that supported it and allowed it to win huge numbers of Senate seats and hold a high proportion of the states particularly because these are smaller states. But that’s been eroded. I mean, the fact that Georgia, Florida, Texas are going to be contested states this year and I think forever as this trend accelerates.

Stanley Greenberg: I think the numbers of states that are red states with total control will be dramatically reduced from where it was. The question is what happens after the election? Once you lose power in this way, I think we’re talking about a party more like the Whigs couldn’t address slavery. Here we have a Republican party, key party and evangelical dominated running against abortion, sexual revolution, running against immigration as it’s overriding purpose in a country that is secular or unmarried, very pluralistic on family ties, totally changing country where women, three quarters of working women, two thirds of women work and I think two thirds are either the sole breadwinner or shared bread breadwinner. So, you have this dramatic change of the family, a Republican party that, to this day, is fighting contraception. That was its suit against the Affordable Care Act. They’re fighting abortion in every state where they have control and run the Supreme Court and back to Constitutional Amendment on abortion. I mean they are in the last throes of a battle against social modernity and immigration in which they are going to lose as this country is more immigrant foreign born, more diverse.

Stanley Greenberg: And so, what’s their relevance? What is their purpose after they lose this election? And every trend I’m talking about is accelerating, accelerating demographic trends, accelerating mobilization, accelerating consciousness, accelerated Tea Party Evangelical control their own party. They’ve driven out 10% of the Republicans who McCain and moderates have pushed out in the last year. So, they are very marginalized and have a purpose. It just doesn’t fit the times.

Jeff Schechtman: Does some kind of party realignment bode for the future in which some new Republican party emerges that is more socially progressive but in keeping some of its traditional constitutional conservatism?

Stanley Greenberg: Yeah. I mean, there has to be something. I mean we’re a two party system. There’s going to be other parties. They will have control in some states as you pointed out, but it took four elections. If you look at what happened with the Democrats from Ronald Reagan in the ‘80s to the Mondale nationwide, landslide election. I mean, it took four elections for Democrats who fought it out internally to finally change in a way that made them sustainable nationally. And it’ll take many elections for them to come back because the Tea Party Evangelical block is not going to go away and Trump may not go away. You know, he may fight for the future of the party as well. And so, I don’t know what happens afterwards. I just know that they’re on an accelerated trajectory, steeper and steeper on embracing issues that are just lost and rejected by the country. They will be illegitimate after this election.

Stanley Greenberg: It’ll be tough to be a Republican, and you know, be a Millennial and be a Republican given where they are on climate change, where they are on gay marriage and immigration and DACA. And so, we’re going to have a period of conflict and renewal within the Republican party but there has to be, I just don’t know where they go. In the book I proposed that the Democrats deal with comprehensive immigration reform to kind of get it off the table in the same way welfare reform changed the party’s position.

Jeff Schechtman: Do you see a situation where people are more or less politically engaged if the Democrats are successful in 2020 and what is the level of political participation you see at that point?

Stanley Greenberg: I projected his trail towards the 2020 but I think I’m very uncertain about how the Republican party then becomes renewed after this election. And I’m uncertain what happens in the period afterwards. But, what I believe is that we are entering a period of progressive reform that I assume will lead to increased engagement. Look, you can’t match the 2018 off your election. Everything I’m looking at from 2020 is we’re going to see millions and millions of new voters have a turnout level of anything we’ve seen in our history, so this election is going to be a one- time huge event. I think it’s one that will leave the Republican party shattered and trying to figure out what is their relevance, what is their new purpose in this?

Stanley Greenberg: But I also think it’s a big period where the government is getting liberated to address a whole range of problems. And it begins with the corruption and roll of big money in government that Democrats are determined to stop as a precondition for doing everything else. But, it’s also going to move to deal with universal healthcare. It’ll move to  climate change and violence. And also, inequalities and entrenched poverty. And there’s so many policies that are able to address that. And so I think there’s going to be a burst of public policy in the next couple of years after the election and mobilization around the issues that a Democratic president is trying to push through the Congress. And so it’s a new kind of engagement if we believe that we are entering a new period of reform.

Jeff Schechtman: Stanley Greenberg, his book is RIP GOP: How the New America Is Dooming the Republicans. Stan, always a pleasure. I thank you so much for spending time with us.

Stanley Greenberg: Thank you. I love doing it.

Jeff Schechtman: Thank you.
  And thank you for listening and for joining us here on radio WhoWhatWhy. I hope you join us next week for another radio WhoWhatWhy podcast. I’m Jeff Schechtman.

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