Earlier this month, Republicans swept into office with their largest majorities in Congress since 1928. They have unprecedented power in state legislatures across the country and control most of the nation's governorships. What they do next will determine whether they seize the presidency in 2016 or take the final steps towards becoming a permanent minority.
Perhaps it seems odd to talk about the extinction of a party that just had such a rousing success at the polls. However, it's not a coincidence that the GOP's victory occurred at the same time as extraordinarily low voter turnout (36.3 percent nationally) — the worst in 72 years. Bipartisan polling shows that if turnout had been higher, the results would have been different, limiting Republicans to, at best, modest gains. Those who didn't vote were as important to the ultimate result of this year's midterms as those who did.
This midterm advantage for conservatives is relatively new. Only in the last couple of decades have their voters begun to dramatically skew older and consequently be more reliable voters. Republicans across the country have worked to enhance this advantage by reducing access to voting for minorities and younger voters (key Democratic constituencies).
However, counting on voters to stay home — even with ample encouragement from misguided laws — is not a sustainable strategy. Eventually democracy will find a way and voters will return to cast out those who oppose their interests. This is especially true when relying on older generations who will slowly but surely be replaced by the next generation. This is doubly true when you consider the Republicans' dependence on white voters, another group that is having a diminishing impact as our nation diversifies.
The reality is this could be the peak of the Republican Party. Don't believe me? Consider what happened way back in 1928. In the next election they lost control of the House of Representatives. The following election, Democrats took a supermajority of the Senate and FDR was elected president.
Conservative ideas can work and have the capability to address the most pressing challenges our nation faces. However, pretending climate change doesn't exist or the complexities of our immigration system can be addressed merely through tougher enforcement or that we will balance the budget without raising a dime in new revenue isn't going to cut it.
Republicans don't have to choose between abandoning their core values and spending another lifetime as a minority party — at least not as long as they don't consider denying reality a core value. Markets can be a powerful tool for solving problems. Balancing the budget is a legitimate national priority. Fiscal realities are just as real as demographic ones.
But demographics are destiny. The country is changing and whatever political parties align themselves with this new, emerging electorate will gain power. This recent victory gives the Republican Party its last, best chance to show that it can govern. This could be the moment when bipartisan solutions are brought forward and a Republican wins the presidency based on this common-sense record. Or we just might be in the eye of the storm that will carry Republicans out of power for a long, long time. ♦
John T. Reuter, a former Sandpoint City Councilman, is the executive director of Conservation Voters for Idaho. He has been active in protecting Idaho's environment, expanding LGBT rights and the Idaho Republican Party.