Republicans have endured a four-year assault on their core principles by disgraced ex-president Donald Trump.
The deficit ballooned, states’ rights were assaulted, and blatant disrespect for the military were the hallmarks of the twice-impeached president’s administration. Through all of the turmoil, the overwhelming majority of Republicans remained loyal because they believed the GOP would return to its roots.
On January 6th, as the world watched insurrectionists assault the Capitol in the Electoral College Riots, their belief in the party of Reagan collapsed. As the chants to hang Vice President Mike Pence subsided, military reinforcements descended on the Capitol, and a defiant Congress returned to certify Joe Biden as president; thousands of Republicans have since left the GOP.
In the week from Jan. 6 through Jan. 12, over 30,000 changed their party status. There was no comparable effect with any other party.
Only a small fraction of the defectors made the dramatic leap of choosing to join the Democratic Party. Some went to conservative third parties. But the vast majority switched from Republican to unaffiliated status, accelerating a recent trend.
“I don’t think there would be any other reason why it would begin at that day except that they looked at what was happening in Washington, D.C., and decided this is a time for me to make what is clearly a symbolic move,” said Ryan Winger, director of data analysis and campaign strategy for Republican pollster Magellan Strategies.
The thousands of newly unaffiliated voters can still support Republican candidates and participate in the party’s primaries. And both parties have seen registered members switch to unaffiliated in large numbers for years. But interviews and data analysis show how the tumultuous post-election period has created a new split within the Republican Party.
For some voters, the violence at the Capitol was simply the final straw. They described an increasingly strained relationship with the GOP, with some citing that the party was focusing on culture wars instead of fiscal conservatism.
Other new former-Republicans had the opposite reaction: They cut ties with the party because they felt its leaders had abandoned Trump by blaming him for the riot and refusing to overturn the election.
Regardless of why they left the GOP, one former member sums up the feelings of many by saying, “Honestly, I think the Republican Party is dead. I don’t think there’s going to be a Republican Party in the next couple years.”