Splitting the GOP

images-1I’ve been writing a lot about politics lately. Every four years we’re told “this election is critical;” it’s a cliché. But this time really is different – reshaping our political landscape.

For a long time, the Republican party prospered as a marriage between a principled segment – supporting limited government, free market economics, fiscal and personal responsibility, free trade, and global engagement – and a working class segment actuated by cultural primitivism, nativism, xenophobia, and bigotry. The former milked the latter for votes without actually delivering much for them. Now they’re rebelling and the marriage is coming apart.

Much punditry says we should understand Trump supporters as moved by legitimate economic concerns. That’s part of it, but not the main thing. The economy could be better but is not in crisis. a-holesThis is more about attitude than economics. It’s people feeling personally alienated from what the American mainstream is becoming; disconnected from the ruling elite. In America 2.0, they’re still stuck in America 1.0. They embrace Trump not in spite of his crudeness, but proudly because of it, which embodies their own. For all his billions, he’s the first presidential candidate with whom they culturally identify. This is not a revolt of the lower class, but of the no-class. That’s why attacking Trump for his various transgressions doesn’t dissuade his voters.

Trump claims he’s uniting the GOP. Yeah, right. Orthodox Republicans, the “establishment,” are freaking out. I’ve heard radio commentary saying it’s because they can’t “control” Trump. That just plays to his appeal. No — Republicans still compos mentis see Trump as turning the party into a grotesquerie, headed for electoral obliteration.

Yet a party schism does not really seem to be happening either. At the February 29 GOP debate, three candidates vilified the fourth as unfit to be president, yet all said they’d support the eventual nominee. That reluctance to break a political taboo is understandable, but it makes it harder for other Republicans to repudiate Trump, and indeed, very few so far have done so. Instead, most seem likely to fall into line behind him because they lack the political imagination to do otherwise.

Unknown-2As a lifelong Republican, if Trump is nominated, I would like to see a party split – as in 1860, 1912 or 1948 – with a rump of delegates walking out to hold their own convention, naming a “True Republican” candidate on a platform of the party’s traditional values.* Yes, that would assure Hillary’s election. But she’s likely to crush the white trash candidate anyway. At least some integrity would be preserved, as a basis for reconstituting, from the wreckage, a Republican party worthy of support.

However, this might also be seen as destroying our two-party system, leaving us with a 1-1/2 party system. Maybe at least that might break the 50-50 partisan gridlock that has paralyzed Washington. But such a settlement could not be lasting, since half the nation (me included) would still be in deep disaffection.

Politics is very tribal; the us-versus-them mentality explains a lot of the partisan bitterness we’ve seen. But this election is exposing the nation’s real division not between two tribes, but more like three (at least) – the Democratic party, increasingly left-wing, in coalition with minorities, unions, and other interest groups – the traditionally conservative, market-economics Republicans – and the disaffected primitivists who really have no ideological affinity with true conservativism. If that three-way split congeals, the first tribe will always outvote the other two.

Trump’s nomination is far from certain. He still needs to win over half the delegates in the remaining primaries; though it’s very possible, most being (stupidly, unlike on the Dem side) winner-take-all (including California, likely to be make-or-break). But Trump is nobody’s second choice; a majority of Republicans still find him repellent. And Cruz is very much the sort of candidate who appeals to the GOP’s traditional base – a quasi-outsider, with religion on his sleeve and a purist right-wing ideology.** So we may well have an open convention, no candidate going in with a majority. What happens then? Who knows?

imagesTrump says there’ll be riots if he’s not nominated. So go riot. America is governed by voting, not rioting. The party is not obliged to nominate a candidate rejected by a majority of primary voters.

Finally, if you think campaigns have been nasty before, just wait for this fall. The attacks will be savage. UnknownSadly, a lot will be justified. Hillary should win, but then we’ll have four more years of bitter partisan divisiveness.

Well, we’re used to that. At least we won’t have an American Putin.

*Actually, to get on the ballot in most states, this would have to be organized much sooner.

**Lindsey Graham once said the choice of Cruz or Trump is like being poisoned or shot. But now he says he’s ready to take the poison.

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8 Responses to “Splitting the GOP”

  1. odinra Says:

    We got something you could Milk

  2. Lee Says:

    Republicans “supporting limited government, free market economics, fiscal and personal responsibility, free trade, and global engagement” is a bit idealistic. Sure, benefits for individuals are limited but just try to cancel the export-import bank or other corporate welfare and watch where the votes fall. A free market globalism for goods and services is apparently too good for wannabe economic migrants. Fiscal responsibility is not how I’d describe the wars.

    Of course, the Democrats are just as bad for some of these, but at least they also seek a reasonable basic safety net for the poor.

  3. rationaloptimist Says:

    Admittedly, the ranks of Republicans who (like me) actually do stand for the “idealistic” principles I cited have been shrinking for quite some time.

  4. Pedro Dunn Says:

    Is it possible that Trump, who seems pragmatic with a capital P, would be able to push an agenda through congress? I’m not sure how to label him, certainly not a Republicrat like Bush or Clinton.

  5. rationaloptimist Says:

    Part of the problem is that he doesn’t actually have an agenda that can be taken seriously.

  6. Roger Green Says:

    Nothing sacred about a two-party system. I think the majority of voters want more choice. this would necessitate Instant Runoff Voting or some other practice to get a candidate acceptable to the majority.

  7. Sfit Says:

    Trump still has a chance to win. I hope.

  8. Greg Says:

    Trump wouldn’t have any traction if the GOP hadn’t been so useless for the last 7-8 years. I bet if the GOP had tried to pass some sensible legislation about infrastructure, jobs, and immigration while they held both houses in Congress, Trump wouldn’t be in the picture. Instead, all the GOP did was vote innumerable times to eliminate Obama Care, and complain about abortion providers and same-sex marriage.

    I suspect GOP voters are not pleased that resistance to abortion, gays, and public health care is apparently more important than them getting a good job.

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