Before anything, it is necessary to define the GOP “establishment.” The term itself is today a derisive one in conservative circles and basically refers to the political class that makes up the Republican Party. It is viewed as more elitist, moderate and out of touch with conservative voters. It also means those Republicans who wish to maintain the status quo because they tend to benefit from it.
When someone wins the nomination of their party, they become the de facto titular head of that party. Even though they may run as an anti-establishment candidate, they then become “the establishment.” Like it or not, Donald Trump is the establishment now despite his rhetoric. Had Ted Cruz won the nomination, he too would be “establishment.” What separates the two, however, is very important.
The Cruz-Trump dynamic highlighted a rift within the Tea Party movement between the “constitutionalist” personified by Cruz and the “populist” personified by Trump. When united, they stood as a powerful force against the status quo in Washington and achieved political success.
Unfortunately, for reasons to numerous to cite here, the populists succeeded in beating down their internal opposition. The result is the candidacy of Donald Trump and the problems now being manifested should have been recognized by party leaders. Simply, the constitutionalist wing of the Tea Party is more grounded in principle rather than the political whims of a slice of the electorate which defines populism. Donald Trump has no guiding principle outside of polling figures, a few amorphous policy proposals and insults.
So why did the current establishment, especially the RNC which controls the rules of the party and the nomination process, capitulate to Trump? The sad answer is that the main alternative- Ted Cruz- was unpalatable to them. This helps explain the problem with the modern Republican Party- a crisis of ideology and strategy.
Some have argued that the big tent theory of the GOP has created the problems with too many factions vying for control. It is true that the GOP has more factions than the current Democratic Party which is basically socialism and socialism-lite. However, what this writer finds most disturbing is that the current establishment failed to essentially unite these factions in areas where there was overlap in ideology.
Oddly, the nomination process produced a candidate who thoroughly violated the Buckley rule- run the most electable conservative candidate- since Trump was neither conservative nor electable. For some, the Buckley rule is b.s. and outdated and the antithesis of conservative purity. One does not question Ted Cruz’s conservative credentials but his electability “quotient” was questionable (yet possible) thus making him the better candidate than Trump. Likewise, the same could be said for Marco Rubio- “questionable” conservativism, but more electable than Cruz or Trump. (Note: Rubio’s conservative credentials were based on a single issue- the Gang of 8 immigration effort)
And that sort of explains the problem of the Republican Party. It is not only the ideological rift that splintered the Tea Party movement, but one of strategy. The Tea Party movement was a fiscal movement against big government, profligate spending and expansion of the social welfare state that now extended into the board rooms of corporations and banks that almost brought down the economy. But, the movement was OccupyWallStreetized- it became a hodgepodge of conservative issues.
The handwriting was on the wall in 2012 when then-Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels suggested a truce on the social issues for which he was pilloried in conservative circles. But let’s look at the opposite strategy gone awry. Although clearly laudable, “shutting down” the government even partially over defunding Planned Parenthood is not a winning strategy. Shutting down a government over profligate spending that funds dubious research and private entities of all kinds including Planned Parenthood makes greater strategic sense. In short, if it is a private entity- like Planned Parenthood- it should be privately funded. The same goes for a variety of private programs from soup kitchens to adoption agencies.
Our GOP leaders not only failed the ideological test, they failed the strategic test. When you throw in their complicity in the rise of Trump, they have failed not only the GOP, but America.
The Republican Party, like all political parties, is a private organization. There is nothing, other than their own rules, which dictates that they should be bound by the results of a primary election that produced a plurality candidate. Most candidates before Trump were mandate candidates, not plurality ones. Regardless, there is still no reason, other than their own rules and false beliefs, that they need accept the “winner” and that is especially true with plurality candidates.
Trump may be the grossest exception, but there may be some redemptive value in adopting a system like that in the Democratic Party with their “superdelegates.” Quite frankly, this writer believes that would be a greater check on people like Trump hijacking the Party. Ironically, that would then place greater power in the hands of “the establishment” since “superdelegates” are the epitome of “the establishment.”
But, do they have to be? The Party process has become too democratized where the results of primaries and caucuses, often inundated with voters who are neither Republican nor conservative, dictate the outcome. What if a system like that of the Democratic Party were in place where state and local party leaders had a greater say in the process? Some may argue that it negates the will of the people. When “the people” includes those with absolutely no affinity towards Republican or conservative ideals and policies, the process is a sham anyway.
Some may argue that the “establishment” then dictates the winner. That does not have to be so if grassroots Republicans and conservatives insure that local and state party leaders remain true to conservative/Republican ideals. Instead of the people choosing the candidate 100%, it should be the Party with the input of the people choosing the candidate. Some may argue that this is an undemocratic process, but where does it say that choosing a party’s nominee has to be a wholly democratic process?
This is no guarantee that someone like Trump will not be the nominee in the future, but it is a viable check on people like him. If a delegate honestly believes that a state primary winner will not be a good choice, binding them to that primary result is an abrogation of principle.
Instead, the current batch of leadership was so worried about a perceptual lack of unity behind Trump that they sold their souls endorsing him. Some stalwarts like Mike Lee and Ben Sasse remained true to their principles. The Republican Party can and must return to a party of principle. It must start with a purge of the Trumpkins and if that costs the Party 35% of it’s membership or affiliation, then so be it. In the end, the GOP must ask itself whether it wants to be a party of unprincipled populists, or one of principles rooted in the Constitution. Given their performance in 2016, the signs are not good.