Trump and the Future of the Republican Party

Regular readers of this blog know that a recurring topic of discussion has been how long the Republican Party can stay intact as it now is.  For forty years, the Republican Party has been a combination of nativist Dixiecrats, Christian Fundamentalists, economic libertarians, neo-conservatives, and the traditional moderate business establishment.  For most of the forty years, this coalition has been a con job with candidates using enough coded phrases and wedge issues on the campaign trail to keep the nativists and the fundamentalists happy at election time, but focusing primarily on keeping the neo-conservatives happy on foreign policy and the establishment happy on economic issues once in office.

For the first twenty years to thirty years this strategy worked well in most places.  The gradual increase of Hispanic citizens, however, is altering the demographics (at least in Presidential election years), making it difficult to keep the nativists happy and still have a chance at winning the presidential election.  (For Congress and state legislatures, the geographic dispersion of seats plus a little bit of gerrymandering will help the Republicans keep their heads above water for a little bit more).  At the same time, the grassroots are beginning to catch on to the con, and they are becoming restless.

The first hint of this came in 2010 with the rise of the Tea Party.  For the most part, the Tea Party has been the same old con in slightly different clothing with the more conservative elements of the business establishment running the show, still using wedge issues (nativism and anti-government rhetoric) to keep the Tea Party members from focusing on what folks like the Koch brothers are really getting from the Republican congressional majorities.

Onto this keg of dynamite has come Donald Trump — a person who has made a career of staying just barely (but not always) on the legal side of shady business dealings.  Trump’s modus operandi has been to use his charisma and celebrity status to push through questionable real estate deals, get his profits out quickly, and then walk away as the business goes bust.  He has now turned this persona to the world of politics — pitching his spiel at the nativists and others who have seen their way of life disappearing.  This target audience wants a scapegoat and Trump delivers by proclaiming that the Republican establishment (the people who really should be blamed) have been complicit with liberal Democrats (a group whose sole responsibility for the problems have been their inability to actually get Republican cooperation for potential solutions) in selling out the American people.

Needless to say, the folks running the show are not happy with Trump’s version of the Tea Party on steroids.  Each day seems to be filled with senior Republicans saying that they will not be able to support Trump if he is the nominee, and more talk of back room maneuvers to try to keep Trump from winning the nomination.  This battle is not Obama-Clinton or Clinton-Sanders.  While every election cycle, there are some vocal supporters of the leading candidates who say “my candidate or else,” this time the exit poll numbers are showing a real split among Republican voters with, for each of the three leading candidates, close to 50% saying that the candidate is unacceptable.    There seems to be a real threat, depending on how things play out, that there will be a significant segment of the Republican party looking for an alternative candidate — either Trump voters who think their candidate got screwed by the Establishment (if they can somehow make their plans to stop Trump with a brokered convention work) or the Establishment who sees a need to give House and Senate candidates a way to separate themselves from Trump.

Obviously, there is the possibility that the Republicans might be able to figure a way to work together.  But Trump is so unpredictable that anything might happen.  (One possibility, however unlikely, is that Republicans might decide to work whatever deals they can this year figuring that getting a good deal with Obama beats the uncertainty of what they might get with a President Trump or with a President Clinton who has a Senate majority.)

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