The Republican future in this scenario replicates the southern-Democratic past. There is another way forward for the party, but it involves more change.
This way begins with a basic fact: Over the course of the 2010s, the share of adult non-Hispanic whites with a college degree rose from 33 percent to 40 percent. That proportion will continue to rise in the 2020s.
It is education more than immigration that is making formerly red states purple, or even blue. In Texas, for example, the higher the proportion of college-educated adults in a county, the harder that county swung to the Democrats in the Trump era. One result, noted by The Texas Tribune, is that Dallas and Fort Worth are following Austin and Houston into the Democratic column—and in the six fastest-growing Texas suburban counties, Trump won by a cumulative total of a tenth of a percentage point, or 2,515 votes.
Similar stories can be told in Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina.
To compete, Republicans must adapt to the new American electorate: more secular, more diverse, more accepting of female leadership. And this is possible.
In California, the same electorate that rejected Donald Trump by a larger margin than it rejected Barry Goldwater in 1964 also voted 57–43 against Proposition 16, reaffirming the state’s ban on racial preferences in public education and public hiring.* A Korean American woman, Young Kim, won the hotly contested race in California’s Thirty-Ninth District, centered on Richard Nixon’s hometown of Yorba Linda. The next Republican House caucus will include at least 25 women. Seven of the Republicans who flipped districts in 2020 were women.
Republicans showed some suburban strength in 2020. They won the Twenty-Seventh Congressional District in Florida, stretching southward from Miami Beach and Miami International Airport. They won the Twenty-Fourth in Texas, which extends atop Dallas from Plano to Fort Worth. They could do better still as a modern party of center-right, business-savvy, fiscally conservative, culturally modern voters, sheared away from the crooks and kooks of the Trump years.
It may take time for Republicans to acknowledge to themselves the truth about the Trump years. But they can act on that truth even if they do not acknowledge it. They can begin by putting an end to Trump’s postelection tantrum and accepting without further weasel talk the reality of Joe Biden’s victory and his presidency. Then they can quit the gerrymandering business and recommit themselves to equal voting rights—competing to win over voters rather than disenfranchising them. Their goal should be creating a modern party of the center-right, redeemed from the squalor of the Trump era, unafraid of elections equally and fairly open to every adult citizen.
Otherwise, America is heading back to the politics of the Jim Crow era, with privileged minorities manipulating antidemocratic state rules to thwart democracy at the national level. This was wrong then, and it’s wrong now.