The End of the Modern Republican Party

By Doctor Comrade

The end of the Republican Party as we know it began eight years ago. The selection of Sarah Palin for Vice President--then a relative unknown from Alaska and eventual TEA Party darling--combined with the rabid response to President Obama's election permanently fractured the GOP. Already teetering in dangerous territory after three decades of selling out white, working-class voters, the Republican Party fragmented into the Republican Establishment, the TEA Party, and the lurking mass of white, working-class men who have become the backbone of Donald Trump's primary success.

In essence, Trump is enjoying a historical moment, and it comes at the expense of the Republican Party. What has become obvious over this primary cycle is that Donald Trump has harnessed a group of voters who felt disenfranchised by the Republican Establishment. They believe the economy crashed because of Wall Street bankers, corporations that sold their jobs to the Chinese, immigrants, welfare programs, and rich Republican leaders who turned their backs on them. This is evident from the kinds of Republicans who were elected to the House and overthrew John Boehner, the TEA Party conservatives who stormed Washington and erected blockades to even the most basic governance. The GOP Establishment, which had enjoyed their newly established radically conservative allies, found themselves bitten by the ideological purity of their new attack dog. No compromise with the Democrats was acceptable, even if it meant shutting the lights off.

But the TEA Party itself was only a temporary and ultimately weak solution to the demands of many Americans. When the TEA Party couldn't give them what they wanted--including the likes of Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz--they turned to the demagogue Donald Trump. On the podcast this week, I predicted that Cruz's selection of Carly Fiorina for his VP was a desperation play to peel off delegates in California. I was wrong about the where--it was a desperation move to undermine Trump in Indiana, not California--but correct about the implication. In order to keep Trump from sweeping Indiana, Cruz hoped to broaden his base of support by 5-10%, which is all he would have needed to prevent Trump from winning over 50%. Unfortunately for Cruz, leaders in his own party turned against him days before Indiana, and he was never able to foster a legitimate anti-Trump challenge in that state.

Indiana, and the comments made about Cruz days before, indicate the three factions within the GOP which will permanently alter its fundamental makeup going forward. The Republican Establishment marched out JEB Bush, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, and Chris Christie. The TEA Party marshaled Ted Cruz. It became clear that neither wing of the Republican Party could control or defeat the burgeoning throng of Trump supporters, the third group which had settled for what it sees as lukewarm politicians for too long. They demand something different from the Republican Party, and as the Never Trump movement has shown, the Republican Establishment seems unwilling and unable to give it to them.

This group--alienated by the GOP and the TEA Party--sees in Donald Trump an anti-establishment messiah. They have been victimized by economic policies which shipped their jobs overseas, closed factories, and gave billions in tax cuts to the rich. They may blame the Democrats and Obama for many of their struggles, but it has also become apparent to them that the Republican Party has exploited their support without paying dividends. Ultimately, this is a backlash to the Baby Boomer generation that mired white, working-class voters in these circumstances. Critic Stephen Metcalf argued that Trump is a product of the Baby Boomer generation, when his corporate warrior ethics were developed in the shadow of dodging the draft for Vietnam. That despite never fighting in the military, Trump--and many of his cohort--developed a warrior mentality that breeds rage and a desire to fight and conquer. For Metcalf, "the boomers were anti-establishment; they were norm-perverters; they were publicity hounds; and in their perversions and hounding, they covered themselves in their own supposed valor by announcing themselves as valorous." But, more importantly, Trump believes he emerged from the 1970s as a peerless warrior, someone capable of rescuing the working class from the doldrums caused by his generation: "In addressing the white working class as would-be savior, Trump, chief beneficiary of boomer privilege, will make good to the victims of that privilege, to those Americans who have fought in our wars only to watch as their economic self-respect ships off to China. In Trump, we find all the false selves of a generation." This is a critical insight because it demonstrates why working-class voters are finally abandoning the routine GOP politics. They see Trump as the quintessential outsider, a paragon of masculinity and business success, who will rescue them from the exploitative Washington-insider Republicans.

Because the Republican Party is so fragmented, the 2016 election is poised to break it apart entirely. Following the defeat of Mitt Romney in 2012, the GOP released an "autopsy" offering solutions to the party's national shortcomings. The RNC saw that without broadening their base of support, it would be nearly impossible for them to win national elections. Women, African Americans, Latinos/as, Asians, and LGBT voters were targeted as possible populations for outreach. RNC Chair Reince Priebus stated the GOP had to get serious about "inclusion."

Despite this report, the GOP electorate has decided that inclusion is not desirable. They rejected a woman--Carly Fiorina--twice; they rejected both Latino candidates (Cruz is unlikable and unelectable; Rubio in part because he supported immigration reform); and they have embraced an openly racist, demagogic, sexist, proto-fascist tyrant instead. Couple this with the GOP's general resistance to inclusion (Obergefell v. Hodges and national same-sex marriage disputes, religious liberty laws, bigoted laws against transgender people using bathrooms, voter ID laws, stances against fair pay, anti-abortion laws, etc.), and it's clear that the GOP stands no chance in national elections going by American demographics and social attitudes alone.

The final straw will be Hillary Clinton's anticipated electoral landslide over Trump. Republican insiders already believe that she will crush him in November. In the past five months, Hillary's polling advantage over Trump has grown, current polls indicate she could win as many as 347 electoral votes, and even without Trump the Republican Party was probably doomed in November. Their winning coalition is no longer viable, and they have done nothing to strengthen the national appeal of the party.

Therefore, a fractured party--Establishment and "moderate" Republicans, the remnants of the TEA Party, and the upstart Trump supporters--and the impending electoral defeat mean the Republicans will have to undergo a major transformation in the next eight to ten years. This kind of change is not unprecedented in recent history: the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s is one example, the re-configuration of the Democratic Party in the mid-20th century is another. What remains to be seen is how the GOP will attempt to recreate itself as a national party that can legitimately contend for the presidency.

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