The Republican Party is dead.
After the 2012 election, the GOP commissioned an “autopsy” of their loss to President Obama that suggested that the GOP needed to become a party that reached out to younger voters and minorities rather than alienating them. This conclusion should have been blindingly obvious—the GOP’s favorability ratings among the fastest-growing groups of voters has been in the toilet for a long time. As the “autopsy” put it:
The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.
Instead of driving around in circles on an ideological cul-de-sac, we need a Party whose brand of conservatism invites and inspires new people to visit us. We need to remain America’s conservative alternative to big-government, redistribution-to-extremes liberalism, while building a route into our Party that a non-traditional Republican will want to travel. Our standard should not be universal purity; it should be a more welcoming conservatism.
Instead of learning from its mistakes, the GOP (and that includes both the “establishment” and the “grassroots” voters) have doubled down. Donald Trump is the raging id of the radical Republican Party. He has effectively manipulated the Republican Party into becoming a tool for his own personal aggrandizement by exploiting the most basic fears and demons of the Republican Party. Make no mistake about it, the Republican Party has now become the Party of Trump.
The Party of Trump is a dead political party. For one, any political movement based around a cult of personality tends not to last long. Unless you’re North Korea, once the Great Leader dies or is embarrassed, the whole edifice collapses. When Ross Perot ceased to become politically relevant after the 96 elections, the Reform Party also ceased to be a viable political party. Here in Minnesota, Jesse Ventura left few coattails for his Independence Party. Leader-led movements are all about the leader, and without their leader, they quickly die.
Worse for the GOP, Donald Trump is the worst possible person to choose as the leader of the party. The GOP has a reputation for not caring about the poor—Trump reinforces that reputation. The GOP has a reputation for being a party of angry white men that cares little for minorities and women—despite Trump’s inept attempts to reach out to minorities, he reinforces that stereotype. The GOP is widely considered the party of the rich—Trump is all about talking about how wealthy and powerful he is, to the point where he routinely lies about both his wealth and his power. Trump magnifies every negative stereotype identified in the 2012 “autopsy.”
The GOP Sells its Soul
If that were not bad enough, the GOP has abandoned what principles at did have in order to catch a ride on the Trump Train. The GOP has been the political vehicle of choice for conservatives at least since the 1964 election. Trump, however, has no understanding of or regard for basic conservative principles. He has expressed support for higher taxes, a higher minimum wage, price controls, an expensive and dangerous trade war with China, he routinely sells out social conservatives, etc. Despite his long list of heresies, the conservative “grassroots” has drunk deeply of the Trump-branded Kool-Aid. Even evangelical Christian voters are embracing Trump, even if reluctantly. Trump famously said that he could shoot someone in the middle of New York City and his support would not diminish. Sadly, Trump is right.
A Trump presidency would be an unmitigated disaster for Republicans. Despite Trump’s supposed “short list” of potential Supreme Court nominees, there is absolutely no guarantee that Trump would pick from that list. It is far more likely that Trump would nominate someone like his sister, Judge Maryanne Trump Berry, who is more ideologically akin to former Justices Souter or O’Connor than Justice Scalia. Trump routinely sells out basic conservative ideals, yet conservatives have deluded themselves into picking him as their champion. This delusion is as dangerous as it is naive.
Of all of Trump’s heresies, by far the worst is his embrace of the so-called “alt right.” The “alt-right” label is just a kinder, gentler term for “neo-Nazi.” The alt-right is a vehicle for white grievance politics and racial separatism. Trump gained much of his support by fanning racial flames through his immigration policies. Even though Trump has been cagey about directly supporting the alt-right (although his children have do so more openly), his campaign has become virtually inseparable from the alt-right’s politics. Everyone from Klansman David Duke to obnoxious gadfly Milo Yiannopoulos have come out in support of the Trump campaign. While Hillary Clinton’s infamous “basket of deplorables” comment was a major political gaffe, calling the alt-right “deplorable” is being too kind. The policies of the alt-right cannot be separated from the foundations of Naziism, and the alt-right should be rejected by any American patriot. Our country was founded on a rejection of tribalism and ethnic strife. Thomas Jefferson wrote in our very Declaration of Independence that “we hold these Truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” The alt-right rejects that foundational premise of America. To be alt-right is to be anti-American.
If You Stand for Nothing, You Will Fall for Anything
To a principled conservative, the rise of Trump has been like the Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Influential and allegedly principled conservatives have embraced a man who spits on the most basic ideas of conservatism. It is one thing for a vapid self-promoter like Sean Hannity to whore himself out to the Trump campaign. But when a normally thoughtful and astute conservative like Bill Bennett jumps on the Trump train, one has to wonder exactly what the hell is going on. Since alien pod people are not a likely option, what has caused a seeming majority of conservatives to abandon their convictions?
The best explanation seems to be that the conservative movement has stopped standing for anything. Instead, it has allowed itself to become solely about opposition to the left. The reason that most Trump supporters support Trump is that they hate Hillary Clinton and think that her election would be the end of the American experiment. For one, if the election of a single President can end this county, then our country is already screwed. We have had eight years of a President steeped in the politics of the radical left his entire life. He’s managed to pass a massive new entitlement system into law on a strictly party-line vote. Supposedly the GOP has done nothing to stop him—mainly because the GOP has failed to get voters on their side. Yet is the country doomed? We have critical problems, yes. But the Republic has faced far worse. What Obama has done to “fundamentally transform” this country is far less than what FDR did during the New Deal. Obama’s executive orders can, and almost certainly will, be undone by a future President. Obamacare has proven to be a political disaster that helped end complete Democratic control of the Congress and led the GOP to impressive political gains. For all the talk about how the GOP has not stopped Obama, name one major legislative accomplishment that Obama has achieved since Obamacare. Obama has been reduced to talking tough and achieving little. The damage of Obama’s foreign policy will be grave—the rise of the Daesh is direct consequence of us leaving Iraq without a plan—but those mistakes can be fixed. The truth is that Hillary Clinton would be a terrible President, but she is less ideological and more practical than Obama. Obama wanted to “fundamentally transform” this country into a left-wing state. Hillary Clinton just wants to rob the place blind for her own self-benefit. While neither is good for the country, we’re more likely to get a replay of the Bill Clinton presidency than the Obama presidency.
If all that conservatives can do to justify their support for Trump is say that Hillary is worse, that’s not enough. Mindless opposition is not a plan, it is not a governing principle, and it is not going to sway anyone who isn’t already on the conservative side. Yet that is all the GOP has at this point. Of virtually the entire Republican apparatus, the only major figure trying to create a vision of government based upon conservative values is Paul Ryan. Yet he might as well be trying to give a speech in a hurricane.
The GOP fell for Trump’s hucksterism because the GOP has no core principles anymore. It’s become all about who can best tell conservatives what they want to hear. It’s not about competence, it’s not about governance, it’s not about principle, it’s not about leadership. We abandoned experienced and principled leaders for a reality-show scam artist. That scam artist is not robbing the GOP blind and using the party to expand his personal empire. If he loses, the GOP will be a husk of itself. Voters like me may never return to a GOP that embraces the disgusting and anti-American politics of the alt-right. If he wins, Trump will embarrass this country, tear at its foundations, and discredit both conservatism and the Republican Party for generations. Either way, the GOP has embraced its own destruction.
Had the GOP embraced the lessons of the 2012 autopsy, it is likely that Hillary Clinton would be dead in the water. A Marco Rubio, a Carly Fiorina, even a Jeb Bush would be soundly defeating her. Even someone like Ted Cruz would be well ahead in the polls. Even though the race appears to be tightening, that’s less due to Trump being effective than Hillary’s poor health and inability to tell the truth.
Moreover, elections are not decided by polling. While Hillary Clinton has built an effective apparatus to get every single one of her supporters to the polls, Trump has done almost nothing to build a national campaign. Instead, Trump has run a “scampaign” that is more about paying himself that building a winning campaign. It’s a fair question whether Trump even wants to win. Yet the GOP has gone full-tilt towards embracing Trump despite the very lessons it should have learned from 2012.
Permanent political realignments are rare in American politics. A major party has not disintegrated since the Whigs in 1860. It’s unlikely that the GOP will go away permanently—after all, the GOP is incredibly strong on the state level. But right now, the GOP is committing electoral suicide. It is abandoning its core principles, failing to learn from its mistakes, and alienating not only those voters that it needs to win, but many of its own core voters.
The GOP is dying, and it is dying of self-inflicted wounds. It deserves to die for embracing Trump, for playing footsie with the “alt-right” and for selling out its core convictions. If the GOP has any chance of saving itself, it must purge itself of every vestige of Trumpism. The GOP could have shown an ounce of moral courage months ago. Instead they embraced Trump as he stabbed them in the back. Even if Trump wins—especially if Trump wins—the damage to the GOP brand will be irreversible.