Updated Sep 21, 2018

The GOP's growing identity crisis

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The Republican Party is suffering an identity crisis that poses acute short- and long-term risks: President Trump, with 38% approval in Gallup, is giving the party a constricted appeal, with the danger of continuing high-profile defections.

Why it matters: In a 50-50 nation, marginal defections can incapacitate a party.

  • The GOP, long synonymous with conservatism, is now effectively the Trump Party — in policy, branding and support.
  • That leaves some swaths of traditional conservatives without a major-party home, and endangers Republican electoral fortunes.
  • And two of the party's mega-donors renounced the GOP last week: hedge fund manager Seth Klarman, once Republicans' biggest donor in New England, and Les Wexner — the wealthiest GOP donor in Ohio, and founder, chairman and CEO of L Brands, which includes Victoria's Secret.

For now, this is a crisis of the intellectual and power elite: "Morning" Joe Scarborough; his frequent guest Steve Schmidt; N.Y. Times columnist Bret Stephens; WashPost columnists George Will, Michael Gerson, and Max Boot.

  • But it’s slowly spreading,
  • The danger for Republicans is that they get clobbered in November, and a trickle becomes a steady stream.

Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, 46, a rising star in the party, continues to flirt with leaving the party — a small sign of a talent crisis that could lie ahead for the GOP.

  • Sasse recently fired off a quartet of tweets praising a devastating critique of the right's current straits: "America Desperately Needs a Healthy Conservatism," by Andrew Sullivan of New York Magazine.
  • "In today’s America, [traditional] conservatism is completely under siege," Sullivan writes. Trump "assaults the norms that conservatives revere, has contempt for existing institutions and sees the rule of law as a means to advance his own interests, rather than that of the society as a whole."

Gallup's most recent gauge of party identity has 28% of Americans considering themselves Republicans, 27% calling themselves Democrats and 43% identifying as independents.

  • It's that big middle group where you see the looming threat to the vitality of the GOP: Some Trump policies are so polarizing that independents are likely to be increasingly inaccessible to the Republican Party, giving Democrats a potentially overwhelming advantage in the pool of voters they can activate.

A former White House official told me: "Shifting demographics have been a problem for Republicans for a long time. Paradoxically, while Trump likely exacerbated that problem in the long term, he also postponed its consequences because he carved out a new path to 270, in large part thanks to his trade rhetoric."

  • "The problem post-Trump is that what he did is not replicable."

Be smart: High profile defections like the ones above won't change the electoral math of the heartland, where GOP presidencies are won. The danger is Trump's alienation of quiet conservatives: They won't make big announcements. They just won't show up.

  • And they could form the base for a new conservative party — run by someone like Sasse.

Go deeper

Blue Cross Blue Shield insurers sue CVS, alleging drug pricing fraud

Photo: John Lamparski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Six Blue Cross Blue Shield insurers have sued CVS Health, alleging the pharmacy chain overcharged them based on "artificially inflated prices" for generic drugs and concealed the true cash prices of those drugs.

The big picture: CVS has faced legal scrutiny over its cash discount programs since 2015, and this lawsuit adds big names to a mounting problem.

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

New Zealand has only eight active novel coronavirus cases and no COVID-19 patients in hospital after another day of zero new infections. However, the death toll rose to 22.

Zoom in: A top health official told a briefing a 96-year-old woman "was regarded to having recovered from COVID-19 at the time of her death, and COVID-19 is not recorded as the primary cause of her death on her death certificate." But it was decided to include her in the overall tally of deaths related to the virus.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 5,690,951 — Total deaths: 355,575 — Total recoveries — 2,350,071Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 1,699,073 — Total deaths: 100,396 — Total recoveries: 391,508 — Total tested: 15,192,481Map.
  3. Public health: CDC issues guidelines for reopening officesFauci says data is "really quite evident" against hydroxychloroquine.
  4. States: California hospitals strained by patients in MexicoTexas Supreme Court blocks mail-in expansion to state voters.
  5. Business: MGM plans to reopen major Las Vegas resorts in June — African American business owners have seen less relief from PPP, Goldman Sachs says.
  6. Tech: AI will help in the pandemic — but it might not be in time for this one.
  7. World: EU proposes a massive pandemic rescue package.
  8. 1 🎶 thing: Local music venues get rocked by coronavirus.
  9. 🎧 Podcast: Trump vs. Twitter ... vs. Trump.
  10. What should I do? When you can be around others after contracting the coronavirus — Traveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  11. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy