Monday, July 18, 2016
Where Now, GOP?
Well, the circus has started. I’ve been listening to the Republican National Convention in the background tonight while bottling apricots (how domestic of me). Of course, you can’t really take anything seriously that you hear in a political convention, but so far, this one has been like an out-of-body experience. There’s a total disconnect between the things the speakers have said about The Donald and the things he has said during his campaign. It’s very much as if they are speaking about someone else.
The convention, I understand, started out with one last-gasp effort by many of the delegates (including Utah’s Mike Lee) to dethrone Donald before he gets any closer to the crown. The news networks referred to it as a “civil war” within the Republican Party. And the metaphor is quite apropos. Donald Trump has divided the GOP in at least two significant ways.
First, he has actually done the Republican Party a favor in exposing a split that they apparently weren’t even aware of. While the party elite were carrying on about the “conservative” agenda, an ideology that all Republican politicians must swallow whole, and were assuming that half the country was on board, Trump ignored this agenda and showed the party ideologues that at least half of Republican voters don’t really care about their precious conservative agenda. They don’t care about supply-side economics. They don’t care about destroying Obamacare. They don’t care about deregulating Wall Street. They don’t care about easing restrictions on pollution. They don’t care about privatizing Social Security. They don’t care about a whole lot of things the party elite are devoted to. Frankly, they are rather uneducated and unsophisticated. They are merely angry, because they have been taught to be angry. Much of it is unfocused anger, but Trump has harnessed that anger and focused it toward a few peripheral issues, like illegal immigration, and made that the central thrust of his campaign.
In a sense, Trump has hijacked the Republican Party and left the former party elite on the outside. He isn’t interested in a lot of the issues that drive Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. And his followers aren’t either. This creates a real dilemma for those who are now outsiders. What happens if Trump wins? If so, then their agenda is pretty much dead. Not that much of it made any sense in the first place. Supply-side economics and tax cuts for the wealthy have produced disastrous results. Scientific evidence supporting human-caused global warming is becoming so overwhelming that the GOP looks foolish denying it. Their devotion to the NRA vision of gun control is opposed by a vast majority of their own constituents. Paul Ryan finally came out with the long-promised Republican health-care alternative to Obamacare, but the experts who have looked at it claim that, once again, Ryan left out too many details, but those details he did include indicate that it would be an unmitigated disaster. Increasing an already bloated military and greedy military-industrial complex makes little sense. And on down the list. So, the conservative agenda is revealing itself to be fairly vacuous, and Trump is helping to nail its coffin shut.
And if Trump loses, the party elite, who will once again return to center stage, have to figure out a new agenda that actually appeals not just to the ideologically pure tea-party types, but also to the mass of undereducated, disenfranchised people Trump has attracted. It may be that if he loses, they may just say “to hell with it” and totally lose interest in empty GOP promises. If their authoritarian savior is rejected by the American people, they may simply drop out of the picture and never vote again. What good would it do? If Trump can’t win, then nobody who will “fix” everything could be elected.
This is the first split Trump has helped create (or has exposed). The second wedge he has driven into the GOP base is his opposition to free trade and his threats of trade wars, which places him, oddly, closer to Bernie Sanders than to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And his rhetoric here has scared the pants off the traditionally Republican corporate sector. Many large corporations are refusing to financially support the GOP convention, and many voices in the business world are in opposition to Trump. But Trump’s angry supporters are once again following his lead, which creates yet another split in the Republican Party.
The question is, can the GOP survive Trump’s candidacy, whether he wins or loses? Trump is creating so many dilemmas for the Republican Party he has hijacked. He is so unpopular among the party elite that many of them are simply staying away from the convention. Many, like Utah’s Mia Love, are staying away because being connected in any way to Trump might sink her chances for reelection. Others, like Mitt Romney, are staying away on principle. Still others are holding their noses and supporting him because he is the new face of the party, and party loyalty trumps everything (sorry for the pun). But will their support of Trump damage their credibility and electability in the future? If I were a Republican, I would certainly think twice about voting for someone who caved in and supported Trump.
After the resounding defeat of Romney in 2012, the Republican Party commissioned an autopsy to figure out what went wrong and what they needed to do to win the presidency in 2016. The recommendations were pretty obvious. High on the list was to cease being the party of the rich, the white, and the elderly. Demographics in the United States are shifting steadily away from older white men toward a multiethnic mix. The GOP needed to appeal to more women and more ethnic minorities. Trump has pretty much singlehandedly dragged the Republican Party in the opposite direction and in the process has revealed an ugly racist, xenophobic, misogynist underbelly in the Republican base. In 2020, it will be that much harder for the GOP to change directions, partly because it is now common knowledge that a rather sizable majority of Republican voters share the bigotry Trump has brazenly advertised. How do you appeal to those people and at the same time appeal to the people they despise? This is a seemingly impossible task.
Personally, I used to be a Republican. I hate to admit that I voted for George W. Bush in 2000. But after a couple of years of his presidency, I could see where the party was headed, and I bailed. I was unaffiliated for quite a few years, but last year I registered as a Democrat because I was voting almost exclusively for Democratic candidates. I have not regretted this decision for one minute. As a Mormon, I have far fewer ethical dilemmas as a Democrat. Their view of government as a tool to help individuals and society rather than as a problem to oppose and be angry about simply feels more reasonable. Their stands on such topics as global warming and gun control are more rational and realistic. And my belief that the real danger to our freedom comes from the corporate economy and not from government is totally incompatible with Republican rhetoric.
So, as a former Republican, it is somewhat disconcerting to watch the disintegration of the GOP. It has become extremist on one hand and angry and irrational on the other. It may split in any of several ways, but I don’t relate to any of the factions. And this troubles me. I believe that a strong two-party system, with differences but with the ability to compromise and work together, is the ideal form of government. But the GOP has gone off the deep end in so many ways, and it refuses to compromise on so many issues, that it appears GOP now stands for Grand Obstructionist Party. For the past eight years, it has defined itself as simply the party that opposes everything President Obama proposes. And now it is being led by an egomaniac who doesn’t really have a coherent agenda for governing. He is shallow and vindictive and frighteningly impulsive. Whether the Republican Party can survive Donald Trump and its own recent history is a question only time can answer.