Truth be told, the Republican Party died a while ago. The New York Dail News’ cover recently showed an elephant in a coffin with the headline, “Republican Party- 1854-2016” after news that Donald Trump had won Indiana forcing Ted Cruz and John Kasich out of the race. The RNC through Reince Priebus tweeted for unity behind the presumptive presidential nominee.
According to practically every online and print source, the purpose of a political party is to nominate candidates for public office and get as many of them elected as possible. Once elected, they attempt to legislate according to common goals, aspirations and policy solutions. The Republican Party is not only the elected officials or their leaders (the establishment), but a potpourri of differing ideas and groups. The Freedom Caucus in Congress, the Tea Party and even pundits in the media and bloggers here at Redstate are part of “the party.”
But it goes deeper than a collection of people. The people within the party work together towards advancing a goal or vision. If the disparate views work together towards that goal, they can create a juggernaut. If at odds, there exists disarray and a lack of cohesion in achieving these goals and interests. In the book The Party Decides, the authors note that bad nominations are a rarity given the definition of a good nomination. That is a two-part dynamic- (1) people who are credible and electable on some minimal level and (2) representative of the partisan divisions. As one can see, Donald Trump violates those two tenets.
Consider the obvious with Trump: no one knows his policy positions and whether they truly represent the partisan division between the GOP and the Democrats. His positions waffle from day-to-day outside the soundbite core of positions. In fact, he has expressed positions that vastly differ from traditional Republican orthodoxy, or espoused some that run suspiciously close to Democratic Party ideals (single-payer health care, support for Planned Parenthood, increasing the minimum wage, etc.).
Some would or may consider Trump a “maverick.” Either party has nominated candidates considered by themselves or others “mavericks” in the past with John McCain being the most recent. A case could be made that Bill Clinton was one in 1992. However, unlike those candidates, Donald Trump is not liked within the all-important general electorate.
This cycle, an incredible number of candidates constituted the original presidential field. There were “outsiders,” Senators, sitting and former Governors, a former business CEO, and even a former pediatric neurosurgeon. Given the wide field, the GOP electorate in the primaries were presented with a wide range of candidates, most of whom were more electable than Donald Trump and who did not carry as many negatives as he.
Probably the best chance to end Trump’s candidacy was in New Hampshire, but a large field entering that race basically splintered the anti-Trump vote. By the second week of February the Republican Party and the other candidates should have realized that they were dealing with something inherently different this time around. Trump was not your average political animal who would have folded in the face of criticism of his style and bombastic statements.
Soon thereafter, some GOP dinosaurs like Bob Dole started to warm up to a Trump candidacy. Most “endorsements” were lukewarm. Unfortunately, there was no strategy to stop Trump. To the extent there was a GOP strategy of any kind, it was directed more at Ted Cruz than Donald Trump.
Political parties are supposed to advance the candidate who appeals to the broadest coalition within the Party and not the most polarizing one. There is a contingent within the GOP that supports Trump vehemently, but there is a broader group that opposes him which explains, despite the alleged splitting of the anti-Trump vote, he could not break through to 50% in any state. The Party usually endorses and supports candidates who came up through the system, but Trump worked around “the system.”
This indicates confusion within the ranks of the Republican Party and a lack of true leadership. In short, the Republican Party was essentially a shell of what it was under Ronald Reagan. The Tea Party surge of 2010 was a last gasp effort at revival that the “leadership” failed to understand, let alone be their guide. This was a movement based on fiscal responsibility, government accountability, a smaller government, and reaction to the bail outs and the final blow- Obamacare. Given the pre-2016 death of the Republican Party is it any wonder the ship was floundering even when it held majorities in the House and Senate?
If the goal of a party is nominate electable candidates who adhere to advancing that party’s interests, it clearly failed in 2016. The fact is that Donald Trump realized this just as anyone with money and business acumen can recognize a dead or dying business vulnerable to a hostile take over.
Unfortunately within those dying/dead businesses we usually find truly great people who despite the environment they find themselves in fall victim to take over. That would include current people like Ted Cruz, Ben Sasse and Mike Lee- people who tried to resist the hostile take over whose warnings fell on deaf ears.
In the end, there will be foot-stomping and “I told you so” comments, but for all intents and purposes, Donald Trump did not kill the Republican Party. The Republican Party was already dead. He simply wrapped himself in its rotting carcass and pulled off the greatest scam in political history.