Donald J. Trump is now the Republican Party's presidential candidate for the 2016 elections. Already the party's chairman, Reince Priebus, who was once aloof and hands-off when the GOPs primary circus was in full swing, has now effectively changed his tune now that the writing is on the political wall. He's on record saying that Trump was "probably good for our party and we're going to get behind the presumptive nominee." Noteworthy here is that fact that the RNC chairman did not offer his congratulations to Donald Trump. However, with that 360 degree pivot it is worth pointing out here that the Republican Party has absolutely no integrity, no principles and, in my humble opinion, has lost every rationale for its being.
Is it the end of Republican-style conservatism, the modern party's guiding principle, that now renders it no longer a viable political party but a lose gathering of people with vastly different interpretations of what conservatism is? Has the GOP lost its relevance in today's highly charged and meritocratic American political society? Naturally, that's a debate that the party, now tattered and torn, must have if it is to compete effectively in American politics beyond 2016. Within this context, with Donald Trump now its nominee, the party has effectively embraced as new core principles of both bigotry and xenophobia.
But is it Trump who has rendered the Republican Party presumably irrelevant, splintered beyond repair, and who has dealt a deathblow to GOP conservatism?
To my mind, Trump may be many things -- many bad things -- but all of the above did not begin with his decision to run for the president of the United States. The malaise of the Republican Party in American politics began in the pre-Reagan years. Today, the Republican Party and its leaders are now split between the #NeverTrump s and those who say they will support Donald Trump. In this scenario the consensus is that the GOP, if not already split, is on the verge of a very significant divide. And as political analysts, party elders, and GOP establishment leaders grapple with this extraordinary moment in American politics it perhaps apropos here to remind "John Public" that American political parties have not ever permanently splintered. Infact, American political parties are incredibly resilient institutions and have withstood many rocky, bumpy and turbulent periods.
The splintering or break up of political parties has a lot to do, not only with party politics, Republican or Democratic, but with demographics and geography. For example, American political history tells us that political parties that rely on the Southern United States as part of their social coalition have sometimes fallen apart. The best example of this that has relevance today in 2016 is the now extinct Whig Party that competed in presidential elections between 1836 and 1852 eventually disintegrating, splintering and dying.
The demise of the Whig Party started exactly along the lines of today's Republican Party -- internal division in ideology and a serious fracturing along geographic lines. These divisions, the first step in the disintegration, gave rise to extremism and conservatism that further split the party along political lines with the end result that the rise of the extreme wing made the party unable, reluctant and hesitant to confront the deepening divide and the extremism driving it.
It is noteworthy here to point out that within the Whig Party it was that divide driven by the resulting extremism and failure to deal with it that gave rise to the birth of the Republican Party. The geographic and political divide within the Whig Party was whether to embrace or reject slavery that took on a North vs. South character with some former Northern Whig Party members led by Abraham Lincoln breaking away to form a political organization dedicated to preventing the expansion of slavery in the United States that was to become the Republican Party.
So now we come to 2016 and the Republican Party is again in the throes of reorganizing, redefining and transforming itself or will again give birth to a new hybrid political child. Whatever happens, the party will not be polarized along geographic lines. There is no North vs. South divide on any national issue. Politically, the Republican Party does not draw or depend on the American North East, North West, or the upper Midwest, for its existence. These are the more liberal parts of the United States. The party continues to have a stranglehold and draw its membership from traditional bastions of republicanism -- the South and the interior West (Rocky Mountains and the Plains States). These areas, like the more liberal parts of America, are united along ideological party lines and socio-economic issues. It's here that Donald Trump draws his majority of support.
And those who write off the Republican Party and predict its impending demise are in for a very rude awakening. This is a party that has gone through many political undulations, fissures and challenges that always appear to others that it's teetering on the brink of impending doom. Not so. And that has to do with both geography and demographics. The GOP, like the Democratic Party, is first and foremost a COALITION of state political party organizations. At the state level the Republican Party's brand, local organization, and support mechanisms are intact, strong and in place. So the likelihood of the national Republican Party splitting and fracturing while not impossible is, on the face of it, quite remote. The reason? Its organizational strength in so-called "red states and blue." It's that infrastructure that will hold the party, both parties, together even as its divisive presidential standard bearer pushes it to unbelievable political contortions.
So let's get back to Donald Trump, the new leader of the GOP. Let me first say that Trump is not the first rogue leader of a major political party in America and he certainly will not be the last. The danger for the party is not about Trump himself but his well-documented history or racism, xenophobia, misogyny, arrogance and political illiteracy. His broad policy positions that drove the rise of the angry, disenchanted sections of the Republican Party has no basis in the party's value systems and are based on emotion, populism, political opportunism, and empty rhetoric. So that as the standard bearer the GOP's fear is that he'll remake the party in his own image -- something that is not sustainable in both the short and long terms.
Don't get me wrong. There is a commonality of purpose between the Republican Party and Donald Trump -- a kind of love/hate - when it comes to hating President Barack Obama, Democratic policies and Hillary Clinton, who they both see as a continuing of Obama's policies. The problem is that the Republican Party Establishment and elders are afraid because they have not been able to CONTROL Trump. That fear is further driven by the fact that Trump is unpredictable and has publicly stated that American domestic and foreign policy should not be predictable.
Indeed, the clear and present fear of the Republican Party is that Trump will damage its brand (if he's not already done so) and cause significant long-term party defections at the state level, especially in more conservative and "swing" states. While Trump's base comprises the GOP's blue collar workers, Tea Party supporters and angry white men that allowed him to win his party's nomination, that's only good for Republican Primaries. In a general election, Trump MUST appeal to women, African-Americans, Hispanics and, most importantly, independent voters, if he's to become the president of the United States. So the Republican Party pundits are nervously scratching their heads because he's alienated these key constituencies and insulted women at every phase of his campaign.
Remember that in the late 1970s and early 80s there was a significant internal problem in the Republican Party when evangelicals, especially Southern evangelicals, became a strong ultra-right movement not unlike the Tea Party Movement of today. Back then the evangelical movement in the GOP was the main opposition to deep conservative positions like pro-choice and pro-abortion that was thrust onto the party's national platform. This threatened to splinter the party. But history tells us that the party not only survived but today its evangelical wing, although still a significant plank in the GOP is not nearly as strong as it was in the 1970s.
Finally, for both Donald Trump and the Republican Party the overarching issue is the presidential election mathematics --the magic 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House. Trump will have to sweep ALL of the Southern States to have a shot of winning, no matter who his running mate is, no matter who he insults or no matter how much he mouths off about "Making America Great Again." So far, as of today, by all projections Democrats can count 217 Electoral College votes to Republicans 191. What that means is that as of May 4 there are 130 states that are called "toss up states" -- meaning they can go any way - Democrat or Republican.
So Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic Party's nominee, if things remains as they are by November, has to win 53 of the toss up states to become the President of the United States while Trump needs 71. His lift will be heavier if Ms. Clinton wins New Mexico (which is presently in the Democratic column with 5 electoral college votes). But in politics November 2016 might well be a lifetime away and a lot, a heck of a lot, can still happen.