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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.
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Go deeper

House passes George Floyd Justice in Policing Act

Photo: Stephen Maturen via Getty Images

The House voted 220-212 on Wednesday evening to pass a policing bill named for George Floyd, the Black man whose death in Minneapolis last year led to nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

Why it matters: The legislation overhauls qualified immunity for police officers, bans chokeholds at the federal level, prohibits no-knock warrants in federal drug cases and outlaws racial profiling.

Senate Republicans plan to exact pain before COVID relief vote

Sen. Ron Johnson. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Republicans are demanding a full, 600-page bill reading — and painful, multi-hour "vote-a-rama" — as Democrats forge ahead with their plan to pass President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

Why it matters: The procedural war is aimed at forcing Democrats to defend several parts the GOP considers unnecessary and partisan. While the process won't substantially impact the final version of the mammoth bill, it'll provide plenty of ammunition for future campaign messaging.

The new grifters: outrage profiteers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As Republicans lost the Senate and narrowly missed retaking the House, millions of dollars in grassroots donations were diverted to a handful of 2020 congressional campaigns challenging high-profile Democrats that, realistically, were never going to succeed.

Why it matters: Call it the outrage-industrial complex. Slick fundraising consultants market candidates contesting some of their party’s most reviled opponents. Well-meaning donors pour money into dead-end campaigns instead of competitive contests. The only winner is the consultants.