In the 1850's, the Whig Party, who had previously seen two of its candidates elected president, fell apart because of deep internal divisions. Many of it members switched to the newly created Republican Party. Some moved to the short lived American Party while others quit politics altogether. Today, we are seeing divisions in the Republican Party and a declining membership. Should it fail to win the presidency in 2016, will it be the end of the party at the national level?
The Republican party has only won the popular vote for president once in the last 23 years. A 2016 loss could be devastating for the party. Even the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, thinks so.
Assuming such a loss, there seems only three choices for the party. It could rewrite its platform, boot out the tea party faction, or it could give up the presidency.
It seems unlikely that the party can broaden its appeal by becoming more moderate. The base has been pushing the platform further to the right over the past several decades. It's likely it will continue to do so. A sudden turn around and strong move back isn't in the cards.
Cutting loose the right fringe of the party isn't likely to work either as it makes up the most active base of the party. Those remaining would be left with the stigma of the party name. Many independents would be suspicious of an actual change in the party's direction.
Leaving the presidency aside, the party is still a powerful force in state politics. As of the 2012 election they held 30 governorships and 27 state legislatures. They may decide to be content with that.
A New Party
In 2013, a gallop poll showed only 23% of those interviewed identified as Republican while 42% identified as independent. This is fertile ground to create a new party that would appeal to those independents and moderate Republicans dissatisfied with their party.
There are already many other political parties. About the only time you notice them is when you see them on the ballot running for president. Many of these parties have specific agendas that preclude wide acceptance. Some of then have been around for a long time and have gone nowhere.
As boring as it may be, a centrist party that holds moderate positions on all issues could get a foothold. If this party is committed to getting things done by working with the other parties, it may have wide appeal to those who are frustrated with the Democrats and the Republicans.
In order for the party to gain critical mass, it can't start with a couple of candidates winning seats on the hospital board. There would have to be a major commitment. The most likely source of such a commitment would be a dissatisfied moderate faction of the Republican party. To elected Republicans in deep red states who are fighting off opponents on their right, it would be political suicide. Likely switchers would be candidates who are threatened by a democratic opponent and Republicans that have lost in a primary election because they were defeated by someone more to the right and see it as an opportunity to get back in.
Critical mass for the party would be when in held enough seats in Congress to deny any party a majority. With both houses so evenly split between the current parties, it would only take a small percentage. Once this happened, the Democrats and the Republicans would have to work with the party to form a majority. With a place at the table, the party would attract additional moderates from the other parties. Most likely, the bulk of them would be from the Republican party. It could also attract conservative Democrats.
Can it Last?
If the moderates flee the Republican Party, all that would be left would be the uncompromising Tea Party faction. By their nature, they would have no chance of advancing their platform through compromise. In frustration, remaining Republican voters may slowly migrate to the new party to have any chance of seeing their goals achieved. Should the Republican party shrink into insignificance, we would be back to a two party system and the new party would have a shot at the presidency.
After the failure in the 1852 election, the Whig party quickly disintegrated. There was virtually no sign of it by the 1856 election. Could this be the same fate for the Republican party with a 2016 presidential loss or will it hold on for many years in its stronghold states?