With the presumptive nomination of Donald Trump as its presidential candidate, the Republican Party has, in the words of the defeated and bitter Ted Cruz, plunged into “the abyss.”
The GOP has we have known it since the Reagan Administration is shattered; it’s future shape, assuming it has one, is uncertain. The question now is whether a dysfunctional party of the white right that has collapsed under the weight of its own internal contradictions will drag our entire mechanism of electoral politics into the abyss with it?
Trump, in fact, is a Republican through opportunity only. His selection will postpone—perhaps permanently—an answer to the question that is at the root of the civil war that has roiled regular Republicans for more than a decade. Does the party lose national elections because it fails to nominate the “true ideological conservatives” with whom the hard core GOP base can identify, or does it go down to defeat because it is insufficiently inclusive and flexible? The endless wrangling over that issue was one of the things that opened the way for Trump whose views are, by Republican standards, somewhere way north of heterodox.
So, too, has the behavior of the GOP’s Washington elite toward many of its core voters. For years now, the party’s candidates have pandered to the lowest common denominators among its disenchanted and alienated white constituency. Once elected, however, those Republican officer-holders went their own way on everything from trade to foreign policy. Voters are mocked in this fashion at politicians’ peril. Polls have found in every state in which the GOP has held a primary or caucus, a majority of Trump voters said they feel “betrayed” by their party’s leaders. Similarly, Trump voters have expressed in numerous surveys a deep anger at Washington’s inability to “get things done.” Trump, they assert is a “can do” guy. That sentiment is a direct result of the gridlock strategy deliberately adopted by the Republicans’ congressional leadership as an expression of their unwavering and unreasoning antagonism to everything President Barack Obama proposes.
The damage a Trump presidency would do not just to this country, but also to the world is virtually unfathomable.The Republican Party can be forgiven many things, but the nomination of Donald Trump for the presidency of the United States is not one of them.
The GOP’s own strategic decisions brought Trump down on their heads.
If nothing else, we will come out of this election cycle with the myth of “the values voters” finally put to rest. For decades now, white evangelical Christians have wielded an outsized influence over Republican politics ostensibly because of their bloc voting for those candidates who adhered to their principles on everything from abortion to marriage equality to public toilets. In state after state, however, the evangelical vote has gone for Trump whose personal life and public stands couldn’t be further from the values voters’ so-called litmus test issues.
Cruz, by contrast, should have been the Christian right’s poster boy—son of a fire breathing fundamentalist preacher, rigorously pious, a public official who speaks in the language and cadence of the evangelical pulpit. The Texas senator who checks every box on the Christian right’s wish list was dead-on correct Tuesday in Indiana, when he characterized Trump as “utterly amoral,” “narcissistic,” “a pathological liar,” and a “serial philander.” He might also have added something about the developer’s public boastful discussions of his ability to seduce married women or his struggles with venereal disease, which he called a “personal Vietnam.”
Given its wide support for Trump, the religious right now stands exposed for what it has been all along—a reactionary movement devoted not to Christian principle, but to the imposition of authoritarian social policies.
The question that now preoccupies the serious and sensible among us is just how deep does the electorate’s pro-Trump anger run? One way to look at it is rooted in the numbers: Somewhere between 25% and 30% of the country’s eligible voters cast ballots in the Republican primaries. Trump won just over half that vote. Let’s be generous and call it 15%. That’s hardly a mandate and, while there’s obviously a wide streak of populist anger expressing itself in the Bernie Sanders vote on the Democratic side of the aisle, it’s a bit of a stretch to imagine the Bernieites crossing over to Trump in November. On top of that, Trump approaches the general election with the highest negative rating—70%–in the history of presidential campaign polling. He is overwhelmingly disliked by women—particularly educated women—who now comprise more than 50% of the national electorate.
That’s a great deal to overcome, everything an analyst asserts about this Alice In Wonderland era in our politics needs to carry the caveat “in normal times this would be the case.” These are anything but normal times, but they are not unintelligible. What they are is a clear summons to the reasonable and the decent to be serious and engaged. The damage a Trump presidency would do not just to this country, but also to the world is virtually unfathomable.
The Republican Party can be forgiven many things, but the nomination of Donald Trump for the presidency of the United States is not one of them.
Whatever the causes of this election cycle’s improbable events, it remains emotionally difficult to accept that the Party of Abraham Lincoln, has nominated Donald Trump as its candidate for president. Hustler and huckster, Trump in fact, represents an American type that predates Lincoln and was described by Herman Melville thusly: “intrepid, unprincipled, reckless, predatory, with boundless ambition, civilized in the externals but savage at heart.”