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TRUMP AND THE REPUBLICAN TEA PARTY

May 20, 2016

 

TRUMP AND THE REPUBLICAN TEA PARTY

Trump has forced the Republican Party into a long-overdue reckoning, per Eliza Newlin Carney in the Spring 2016 Edition of The American Prospect. I think rather that the Republican Party was roiled long before Trump made the scene. I think grounds for reform started boiling in that party when it did nothing to stem and otherwise discipline the tea party nihilists and libertarians within its ranks and I repeatedly blogged that unless it excised this cancer within its midst that it was headed for Whigdom. (The Whig Party came apart on the issue of slavery and was replaced in 1854 by the  then new Republican Party, which proceeded to elect a president only six years later, one Abraham Lincoln, himself a former Whig.)

As things now stand, the Republican Party (like the Whigs though on different issues) may fail unless its establishment wing shows some political backbone in running its own show rather than bowing to bullies who are running for office on its ticket. I think that over the long run the tea party (read nihilists and libertarians) are a greater risk to the party’s survival than the influence of Trump and others who are taking advantage of current voter discontent with both parties because of legislative gridlock caused by doctrinaire tea party elements and their allies – right wing Republicans – who admittedly are more interested in seeing a failed presidency than passing constructive legislation.

Whether Carney’s diagnosis or mine is correct is immaterial unless they do something with the tea party nihilists and libertarians who detest government but run to get inside it to do their mischief, i.e., to do nothing and to throw cold water on any initiative proposed by Obama. The result is that we in this country are treading water, going nowhere while enduring an underperforming economy and worsening wage inequality while core inflation is ticking up (“core inflation” excludes food and energy, both of which are expanding whether within the inflation basket or not).

John J. Pitney, Jr., an American politics professor at Claremont McKenna College, who has written extensively about the Republican Party, writes in re the Republican Party that “They have to avoid two mistakes. Number one is ignoring the Trump phenomenon. Number two is embracing the Trump phenomenon.” He writes that the smart path is figuring out what Trump supporters are worrying about, and find some sensible way to address it. There are, after all, per Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal, many Republicans who look at the anti-immigrant, anti-trade, anti-Wall Street rhetoric of their leading candidates, and no longer recognize their party.

Trump has fractured his party by his direct challenges to Republican orthodoxy. He has defended Planned Parenthood, is a protectionist, and has vowed never to touch social security or Medicare. Some Republicans have gone along with such revolutionary talk since they have long aspired to win over working-class voters. Other Republicans, however, are very concerned over Trump’s flimsy grasp of foreign policy, his attacks on Mexicans and Muslims and his tacit promotion of violent protest.

Carney correctly notes that “If Republicans win the White House and/or retain control of Congress the GOP may move even further to the right. This would continue the party’s current trajectory, as Tea Party orthodoxy has increasingly locked down the Republican agenda on Capitol Hill.” She is right. They would read such a victory as an endorsement of their do-nothing policies, and would hamstring any initiatives they pleased that were proposed by either Trump or Clinton as president, thus assuring a continuation of the gridlock we are currently suffering.

No one can know just how the political landscape of the future will eventuate, but we do know that the accelerating growth of what Stan Greenberg calls “a new majority coalition of racial minorities, single women, millennials, and seculars” (why is labor omitted?) “formed 51 percent of the electorate in 2012, and will comprise 63 percent in 2016.” Republicans, on the other hand, have repeatedly lamented that demographic shifts threaten to shrink their party over the long term. This contrast doesn’t sound “long term” to me; it sounds like now since this is 2016, so if Greenberg’s numbers are anywhere near what he writes they are, and if Democrats show up on Election Day, Hillary Clinton will win in a landslide, taking the down ticket with her, even possibly the gerrymandered House.

Whatever happens in the fall of 2016, the Republican Party is headed for disarray at best with the possibility that they will descend into Whigdom at worst. Many Republicans detest Trump even though in my view he is not their number one problem. Their number one problem is the tea party’s control over the Republican do-nothing agenda, and that problem will not go away whoever is elected president if the seriously gerrymandered House remains Republican, as Trump will find out if elected and trying to flesh out initiatives which must have congressional approval. Meanwhile, the Republican Party is on life support and may be headed for the trash bin of history as was its predecessor Whig Party, which failed, and in my view will fail unless they remove the tea party nihilists and libertarians from their midst.  A “Big Tent” where many different views can be tolerated within a party’s structure is a good idea, but no tent in a democracy is big enough to accommodate nihilism, a bridge too far.    GERALD     E

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