Article By: Spencer Page
The Republican Party of today opposes big government, is culturally conservative, mostly consists of white supporters and dominates rural and southern states around the country. However, the party wasn’t always this way as it transformed greatly from the party of Abraham Lincoln nearly 150 years ago to the party of Donald Trump.
When Lincoln was elected in 1860, the party’s support was concentrated in the Northern states as the North continued to fight for the end of slavery— nearly the polar opposite from what it is and supports today. In the Civil War, the Republican Party, which was mainly comprised of northerners, fought to both keep the union together and abolish slavery, both of which they were successful in as they passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, along with the 14th and 15th amendments, stating that all men of color have the right to vote and are equally protected under the law.
As a result of the war, many northern businessmen became extremely rich and began to take larger leadership roles in the party. These businessmen wanted to stay in power, and as a result, decided that fighting for the rights of people of color wasn’t the way to do that in a predominantly white country. This left the South and the Democratic Party to enact these racial reforms themselves which they did not do, leaving the South to be run by white southern Democrats.
Moving forward to the 1920’s, the Republicans were the party of big business which worked well for them when the economy was booming but failed when the Great Depression hit. With this, Democrats, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, were put into power. They expanded the powers of the federal government to avoid another financial crisis like the one in 1929, and they got the United States out of its economic depression. To oppose the Democrats, the Republicans became a party that opposed “big government” and many government-run programs which is an identity and policy that the party still holds to this day.
Jumping to the 1950s and 60s, race and racial discrimination were once again at the forefront of national politics. Democrat Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964. On the other side of the spectrum was Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater who opposed the law, arguing that it would expand the power of the federal government far too much. With this, a huge switch happens in which Black voters begin to flock to the party that once was the party of slavery, the Democrats. Whereas, the white voters that were once democratic switched to the Republican Party, upset with the fact that the federal government was trying to tackle racial issues in the South. With white voters flocking to the GOP, the South became a solidly Republican region.
Over the coming decades, the Republican Party would become recognizable as the GOP of today as Ronald Reagan was elected in 1981 and promised to fight for lower taxes and business interests. Then, as the dawn of the 21st century approached, Hispanic immigration skyrocketed, and as the Democratic Party wanted to make the millions of undocumentated immigrants officially legal residents of the US. The Republican Party, however, was harsh on immigration policies, leading to a loss of support from the Hispanic vote.
This would come to bear in 2012 when President Barack Obama blew Republican nominee Mitt Romney out of the water with 71% of the Hispanic vote. With this, the Republican Party seemed to look more like a party for white voters in a nation that is increasingly not white and is incredibly diverse.
This glaring weakness in the Republican Party’s future led to an attempt by GOP senators to pass a bipartisan bill that would give undocumented immigrants a path to legal status. However, the mostly white base of the Republican Party lashed out at this saying that the immigrants were here illegally. This led to a mistrust of leaders in the Republican Party, setting the stage for outsider Donald Trump, to come in and excite the white vote of the Republican Party. He was able to win with this vote in 2016, but he did not have the same outcome in the 2020 presidential election.
Trump has left in his wake a shell of the Republican Party that he initially campaigned with, due to the way in which he has not accepted his defeat and has claimed baseless election fraud. He has torn the senators, representatives, and voters that once had the same views into separate groups of the Republican Party. There are those that are truly only loyal to him and will believe anything that he says, and those that are simply forced into voting for him out of hate towards the Democratic Party.
What is clear in 2021 is that the Republican Party is at a crossroad like it has been many times in its history. It can choose to continue to make Donald Trump the face of the Republican Party, a plan that doesn’t seem like it will work due to the demographic changes that the country is facing, or change the face of the party, creating legislation and running candidates that are likely to perform far better as we continue deeper into the 21st century.