Yeah, there’s an election here in Hawaii at the end of the week. But do you really need to hear even more about “leadership,” mega-botched missile launch drills, or shiploads of dark money mysteriously unloaded into the coffers of a candidate for … harken thee the herald trumpets! … lieutenant governor?

So let’s skip right past 2018 and jump to 2020, the day after the November 2020 election to be exact.

In fact that’s what New York Times columnists Brett Stephens and David Leonhardt recently did. They differ over whether Donald Trump will be re-elected and both make plausible cases based on solid suppositions.

I’ve got nothing to add to that, but I am motivated by their jumping-ahead approach. It is a great way to get out from the everyday political noise and see the big picture.

So I am going to write about the day after the November 2020 election with a Hawaii-centric twist and ask this: What will be the state of Hawaii’s Republican Party?

Donald Trump supporter Nathan Pakai throws a shaka while waiting for the president’s arrival in Honolulu last November. Whatever fate awaits Trump in 2020, however, count on the state Republican Party to still be flat on its back.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

And here’s the answer. Whether Donald Trump wins, loses or does not run, Hawaii’s Republicans will be even worse off than they are now.

All of Hawaii’s major office holders will continue to be Democrats. As usual there is a decent chance that the GOP candidates will barely be recognizable even come Election Day.

A teeny-tiny number of Republicans in the Legislature will be elected, probably not more than the five that are there now.

This will continue a trend that began about a half century ago. And there is little that Republicans can do about it because the problems go well beyond the capacity of even the most talented and persistent activists or candidates to fix.

The reasons are stable and fundamental, a combination of basic arithmetic, human psychology, and national politics. To understand this we first need to clear the air and get rid of three misconceptions about Hawaii’s Republicans.

One is that the party simply has to move to the center. The problem is the party is already rather moderate — or at least not nearly as rigidly conservative — as Republicans generally, and it still loses.

Forget it. Look, you can’t wish away or moralize away difference. Over 90 percent of Republicans in Hawaii approve of Trump’s presidency and a miniscule number voted for Hilary Clinton.

You may consider these people as wrongheaded, stupid and venal. So what if you do? The issue here is how they vote, not what their character is.

The second canard goes something like this: “We need a viable Republican Party in Hawaii because a two-party system is so important.”

Yeah, sure. Wonderful idea — if you are looking for a theme for an American Legion Fourth of July speech.

But it’s bad political psychology because people don’t behave that way.

This argument is the leafy green vegetable of Hawaii politics. Ask people, “is kale a healthy food for everyone?” and they say “yes.” But you make food choices based on all kinds of more personal preferences, like taste and habit.

Your own preferences are more immediate, compelling surely more important than some general pablum about robust health.

So please stop lamenting the lack of Hawaii GOP influence. Right now there is too much lament-driven politics as it is.

Hawaii is a one-party state because it’s the Democratic Party most of you decide to vote for. It’s been that way for longer than Cher’s singing career.

The difference is that Cher regularly gets a makeover while our political preferences do not.

The third canard is that the GOP just needs better candidates and more robust campaign strategies.  That’s an illusion, not just about Republicans but also about how elections work.

Stable Arithmetic

If you want to think about electoral politics in Hawaii as concisely as possible, think simply of this:

— Most people continue to vote for the same party election after election.

— In Hawaii people who identify as Democrats far outnumber those who identify as Republicans.

— There are few independents who actually move from party to party. The actual voting records of self-declared independents show that the overwhelming majority vote consistently for one party or the other.

These stark facts mean that any Hawaii Republican candidate starts with an enormous, consistent handicap.

Of course we have examples of people changing their political minds, but a closer look at these indicates how different they are from the Hawaii case.

Beginning in the late 1960s the American South has flipped from a bastion of Democratic support to a bold and bright red, but that was because race was such a compelling issue, and the national Republicans began to embrace racial politics much more sympathetic to the old Confederacy. Even then, the change was incremental and took over 40 years.

Demographic-based voting change appears to favor the Democrats in the long run. Today’s younger voters are comparatively liberal and favor Democrats in the 2018 midterms. These generational differences linger.

Wisconsin is often described as a state that has moved dramatically from a progressive bastion to the epicenter of Koch Brothers conservatism in a short period of time.

Not really. The state had already been competitive for years. Even though the Republican legislators were the minority, they had substantial representation. The conservative revolution required only the election of a GOP governor and an increase of about 10 Republican seats in the lower house.

To be clear, this Wisconsin experience is a big deal for liberals and conservatives, but as an object lesson for Hawaii Republicans? No way.

Go by the numbers again. If Hawaii Republicans won 10 more state House seats, they would have a grand total of 15, a whopping 30 percent, just about the same as the cellar dwelling 2017 UH football team’s win-loss percentage.

Nationalization Hurts Hawaii GOP

I recently wrote a column about how the nationalization of politics hurts state and local issues. Hawaii’s Republicans are particularly vulnerable to this.

Before this nationalization one of the ways that a weak minority party could get traction was by stressing local issues. Obviously this strategy has not been a resounding success for Hawaii, but it was a plausible weapon.

That is what the party’s traditional tightrope walk between the national and local party is about. We are Republicans but we are uniquely Hawaii Republicans.

Much harder to do nowadays.

Voters increasingly take their cues from national politicians. They pay less attention to and have less knowledge about local issues than they used to. And sources of campaign funds and consultation, like the respective parties’ campaign committees, are less than enthused with local issue-based campaigns.

The national Republican players are certainly interested in what Hawaii does and offers help. To a point. That point is whether there is something to be gained nationally from their support.

Considering that Hawaii is both tiny and dark, dark blue, that point gets reached very fast.

“In the end,” David Leonhardt wrote in his prediction that Trump will lose in 2020, “it was a lot simpler than it often seemed. The normal rules of politics do apply to Donald Trump, after all.”

Whether or not you agree with Leonhardt’s prognosis, his statement about rules offers a good analogy to Hawaii. It’s the normal rules of politics that minimize the Hawaii GOP.

Could the exception happen in 2020? Of course. A high probability is not the same as absolute certainty.

Stuff happens — major scandal, a compelling issue, who knows what else in today’s world.

Any of these could shift the electoral math, but the key thing to remember is just how big this shift would have to be in order for Hawaii’s GOP to become anything other than a stifled voice in a political wilderness.

Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes. And you can still comment on stories on our Facebook page.

Our journalism needs your help.

While asking for your support is something we don’t like to do, the simple fact is that our reporters, our journalism, and our impact rely on it. Since lifting our paywall and becoming a nonprofit in mid-2016, our local newsroom has benefitted from a stream of charitable support from people who want our type of journalism to survive. People like you who understand that our work is essential to a better-informed community. If you value the work of our journalists, show us with your tax-deductible support.

About the Author