With Donald Trump basically guaranteed to win the nomination, it seems like what the Republican Party wants and what the Republican voters want are two different things. Do you think that the Republican Party should split into two different parties to represent this? Or do you think that the Republican Party as it has been will start to phase out over the next several years?
I also got this question from @twinicegiantorbiters:
I know you prefer facts over speculation, but how might a successful Trump nomination affect the Republican Party? I know parties often will drift ideologically toward popular candidates, but not only is he *very* different ideologically from a ‘typical’ or ‘ideal’ republican, but many in the GOP have very publicly derided him. I can’t imagine that not having any negative effects on the GOP. Or, if you would prefer a more indirect answer, what historical precedents are there, if any?
And from @amischiefofmice:
How realistic is this death or least a splitting of the Republican Party I keep hearing about?
I’m warning you all now: We may be taking this question out of the oven too soon. But considering how many folks have been declaring the death of the Republican Party following Donald Trump’s victory in Indiana and subsequent assumption of the mantle of presumptive party nominee, the matter is clearly on everyone’s minds.
The modern Republican party - that is, the Republican party since about 1964 - has always been a fairly contentious coalition of two seemingly contradictory forces: The movers and the shakers of the Republican Party are wealthy, intellectually conservative legislators who favor, among other things, free trade and a hawkish and aggressive foreign policy; in contrast, the Republican base is largely rural, working-class, white, and focused on “traditional” values - Christianity, hard work, the disintegration of the nation’s moral fabric, things like that.
We saw a preview of this race back in 2008, when Sarah Palin - remember her? - offered the Republican base a new brand of anti-establishment, anti-immigrant “aw shucks, isn’t America swell” populism. She got up on TV and said pretty much whatever she wanted, popularity or political correctness or factual correctness be damned. It’s no surprise that Palin has been one of Trump’s biggest supporters; they are, after all, cut largely from the same cloth. But during her Vice Presidential campaign, Palin clung faithfully to the ideal of intellectual conservatism, a trait that Donald Trump lacks, perhaps to his benefit.
Trump has instead embraced populism, tapping into a wellspring of discontent that lay for years at the heart of the Republican Party’s uneasy marriage. His gambit relied on the notion that the working base of the party, in the face of staggering job loss, doesn’t actually care about William F Buckley’s ideological conservatism. Maybe they don’t care about free trade when Rust Belt factories lie dormant. Maybe they don’t even particularly care about gay marriage or abortion anymore, so much as they care more about America being beset on all sides by terrorists and immigrants who just can’t wait to disrupt our way of life. The gambit seems to have paid off - in the perfect storm of this election season, with a Republican candidate pool in the double digits, Trump’s tribalism managed to scrape together a consistent coalition of 30% - 40% of Republican primary voters long enough to secure his party’s nomination, to the horror of the party leadership.
Isn’t it so often the case that the silent majority is neither silent nor a majority?
I don’t mean to eulogize the Republican Party here, because as much as I try to avoid speculation, I’ll give you some here, now: They’re not going anywhere. Congressmen and Senators are already lining up to pledge their allegiance to Trump himself, or to give a strange and contradictory “half-endorsement” in which they say they’ll support the Republican nominee but not endorse Trump himself. (Who knew the Republican party was led by such talented contortionists?)
There are a few notable and high-profile holdouts. House Speaker and nominal head of the party Paul Ryan is “not ready” to endorse; Senator and former Presidential candidate John McCain is waiting for an “apology” from Trump (good luck); the Bush family is neither endorsing nor attending the convention. Conservative columnist and party elder Bill Kristol is reportedly in talks with Mitt Romney to mount a third-party bid, but as I explained in an earlier post, such a bid would likely only end up splitting the ticket in favor of Hillary Clinton. (The ostensible goal would be to win states with such ferocity that no party reaches the 270 electoral vote threshold needed to secure a victory in November, thus sending the decision to the House of Representatives, like in 1824. Good luck with that.)
This conflict will resolve itself one way or another. The face of the Republican party may change a great deal, and maybe a more “intellectual” conservative party will show its head above water, but when all’s said and done, the Grand Old Party will still be around. It survived Roosevelt, it survived Lyndon Johnson and Civil Rights, it survived the Tea Party. This is a sea-change, not Charybdis.
See, I could be wrong about all of this. Maybe voters do identify with the intellectual wing of the Republican party over the immigrant-hating yee-haw attitude that folks like Palin and Trump represent. Maybe over the next six months, Trump will do or say enough absolutely nonsensical stuff, will alienate enough people that a third party actually does emerge with enough force and momentum to mount a serious challenge for America’s conservative wing.
We may be in the latter days of the Republican Party. And such events are not without precedent: Just ask the Whigs.
“In support of the Constitution and Laws” is not the catchiest political slogan I’ve ever heard.
The Whig party was once one of America’s most successful political parties, and is now relegated to the history books. Although they were only a political force for twenty or so years, during the early half of the 19th Century they elected governors, won seats in Congress, and even won two Presidential elections.
It’s important to realize that, despite what a lot of modern-day political rhetoric would have you believe, divisions among parties were not always situated on an axis from liberal to conservative. The “small government” vs “big government” dichotomy wasn’t what divided political parties in 1833. Rather, the Whigs were formed in response to what some saw as Presidential overreach by President Andrew Jackson.
Andrew Jackson, the brash, populist hero of the War of 1812 exercised the power of the Presidency more liberally than any executive had before. Jackson and his supporters fostered a deep distrust of the federal government; to that end, Jackson vetoed federal funding for infrastructure improvements like roads and railways and killed the Second Bank of the United States by withdrawing all government money from it and refusing to renew the charter (this is back when the US government was in the business of running central banks, you Hamilton superfans might be familiar with this).
In response, the Whigs formed in 1833, painting the President as “King Andrew” and rallying around the cause of a limiting executive powers, restoring Congressional primacy and improving the nation’s infrastructure (which at the time must have seemed like very sexy, compelling reasons to form a political party). They couldn’t hold a candle to the strong party unity and loyalty exhibited by Jacksonian Democrats, but the Whigs had a secret weapon: The New York Tribune’s Editor-in-Chief, Horace Greeley, was a Whig, and none too shy about using his paper’s record circulation numbers to push the Whigs’ political agenda, to great effect: in 1841, William Henry Harrison was sworn in as the country’s first Whig President, and over the next decade, the Whigs expanded their power base in gubernatorial elections in industrial states.
You’d think they could come up with a less cool nickname than “King Andrew.” I guess it was the “Dangerous Donald of its day.
Ultimately, slavery divided the Whigs about a decade before it would divide the nation. Southern Whig party leaders were all or nearly all slaveowners; Northern Whigs tended to represent industrial interests and favored strong national unity. Additionally, many of the Whigs’ modernization policies led to a robust economy, which discouraged many from seeking public service, including a young Illinois lawyer named Abraham Lincoln, the Whig party leader in Illinois. The Whig party all but disappeared in the South in favor of the Know-Nothings, and in the North, most prominent Whigs jumped ship to the young and growing Republican Party. By 1856, the Whigs were finished.
What can we learn from the Whigs? What lessons are applicable for the Republican Party? First, I would say that the Republicans have already conquered the biggest challenge that faced the Whigs: the modern Republican Party fosters a strong sense of party loyalty and party unity. It’s rare to see a Republican legislator break ranks with their caucus, and even if Trump wins the Presidential nomination, there’s not much evidence that it’s affecting Congressional races. Legislatively speaking, the Republican Party should remain strong at least until the next midterms.
I don’t think “is the Republican Party dying” is the right question to ask. The answer is “almost definitely not.” Instead, the question to ask might be this: Is Trump a one-off, or is he the new normal? Are we seeing a black swan event, or is Trump’s deviation from traditional conservatism what we can start to expect from Republican challengers? And that question is a whole lot harder to answer definitively. Win or lose, Trump has already indelibly altered the political landscape. We need new models for whatever is next.
Thanks for your question! As always, you can ask anything you like right here.
If you found this useful or interesting, how about supporting The Governmentalist on Patreon? Your monthly support goes a long way toward helping me create useful, enriching and interesting content for everyone! Thanks again.