President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign was one of optimism: hope, change, and the promise that “Yes, We Can.” With such a message, Obama won the presidency by an overwhelming majority. He had the highest popular vote majority since 1988, the most electoral votes since 1996, and the largest voter turnout the United States had seen in 50 years.
Barack Obama promised change, and with his promises came a remarkable amount of trust. 8 years later, the American people–specifically Republicans–are fed up. After observing Obama’s broken promises, coupled with a political atmosphere plagued with (what they view as) failure, the American public feels not only betrayed, but vindictive.
Such emotions are understandable when considering the aftermath of the 2008 recession, especially for those who have experienced tax hikes, job losses, and the deprivation of liberties under Obama’s presidency. An unprecedented feeling of frustration–and vengefulness–has engulfed our middle class for all the right reasons.
As of writing this post, 39% of Republicans find their panacea to such frustration in one man: Donald Trump. Trump has maintained an unexplainable lead in the 2016 Republican race for the presidency since his announcement in June, and many contend such numbers are an indicator of his inevitable nomination.
I believe that Donald Trump’s baffling success in the polls is not a sign of his success, but rather, the understandable mistrust of institutionalism in the United States. I contend that most support for Donald Trump is bullheaded, impulsive, and misguided. Such overwhelming support will devastate the future of the Republican Party, and most likely decimate their chances for success in 2016 (and beyond!).
Donald Trump’s demagoguery is one that appeals to the aforementioned disgruntled individuals. When the hard workers who were hurt by the 2008 recession heard Donald Trump impolitely disparage Obama’s expansion of the welfare state, they started to listen. When The Donald backed up his condemnation of liberalism with his impressive record in business and his willingness to ignore political correctness, such listeners became avid supporters.
It is not Donald Trump’s ostensible superconservatism that makes him so appealing to GOP voters. Rather, it is his willingness to put politics aside, to say what others refuse to, and to ensure that Americans are America’s priority.
In August, The Atlantic asked its readers why they support Trump for President, and the results were quite telling. They found:
1. Even liberals are willing to vote for Trump because no one else can get anything done:
“I feel that Trump is our only hope in this next election. This is coming from someone who voted for Obama in the last election!”
2. The white middle class deserves more:
“Politicians spend no time helping them. Black lives matter more and illegal immigrants who break the law get a free pass. Evangelicals in this country no longer feel they have the right to religious freedom and have watched what they perceive as a sacred institution in marriage gutted. All the while, politicians they voted for to represent them just plain don’t.”
“Trump has never lied to me whereas all of the other Republican politicians (like McConnell & Boehner) have. They don’t fight for my side. Nobody fights for my side. Trump fights. Trump wins. I want an Alpha Male who is going to take it to the enemy. I am tired of supporting losers.”
Upon the other answers were ones that glorified Trump’s disrespect of political correctness, his outsider vibe, and his ability to make deals.
In spite of Trump’s popularity (and for all good reasons), the GOP establishment has thrown over $100 million behind their most ideologically consistent and pragmatically conservative candidate: Jeb Bush. And although millions have been donated in support of who the GOP hoped to be their eventual front-runner, Bush’s net approval rating among Republican voters has dropped by 28% since July (he’s now less popular than John Kasich). Trump’s numbers? They’ve only shot up. So, the establishment’s dedication to a conservative candidate has ultimately led to Jeb Bush’s demise, all the while Trump’s unusual lead has maintained.
Thus, the Republican Party is facing a crisis. After losses in 2008 and 2012, the GOP was plotting a revival in 2016. Instead, Donald Trump’s entry into the race triggered a class war between big-money donors and no-money voters. Now, the GOP is at a crossroads. Does the establishment shift directions and support a bombastic, ideologically inconsistent candidate that has no real chance of winning? Or do they double down, and throw more money behind any other candidate who would invariably be conservative, despite his or her unpopularity?
Either way, the GOP loses.
Scenario 1: The Republican establishment gives in to the Donald’s requests to Make America Great Again(!) and awards him the nomination. After all, Mr. Trump has maintained an impervious lead since his entry in June, despite controversy and insults from both sides of the aisle. If he’s made it this far, he could continue the trend enough to beat Hillary, right? Probably not. Although authors have recently given credence to such a possibility, it remains unlikely.
Rasmussen reported on the 8th of January that 74% of Republican voters believe that Donald Trump will eventually become the Republican Party’s nominee. In contrast, 1/4 of the GOP electorate would “definitely not support” the billionaire if he did in fact receive the nomination. But to best understand Trump’s chances in 2016, we ought not look at the Republican Party itself. After all, in 2012, Romney got a whopping 93% of the Republican vote, but still ended up giving Obama his second term. Why? The reason: moderates and independents.
41% of voters in the 2012 presidential election described themselves as moderates, and 29% as independents. Therefore, 70% of all voters in the 2016 election can be reasonably expected to declare themselves as either moderate or independent. YouGov’s most recent surveys find that Trump’s current polling among this group make his chances at the presidency rather bleak. They found that Trump is viewed “very unfavorably” by an average of 43% of independents. Among moderates? 47% had a “very unfavorable” opinion of him. In total, 58% of moderates and 51% of independents told YouGov in December that they “would never vote for” Mr. Trump. The math is simple, and rather telling: unless moderates and independents drastically change their feelings towards Donald Trump in the next 10 months, the possibility of a Trump in the White House is nearly impossible.
But not only is it impossible to win the presidency in 2016 if Trump is the GOP’s nominee, it would mean bad things for the future of the Republican Party.
People support Mr. Trump for many reasons, few of which involving praise for his conservatism. That’s because, simply put, Trump isn’t all that conservative. When evaluating the entire scrum of candidates in the race for 2016, it seems as if Donald Trump could be involved in either party’s presidential debates–and garner the same YUUUUGE ratings for both. With his ultra-conservative and ultra-crazy proposals to kick out and/or ban all Muslims, he seems to be at home in the GOP. But with his silent support for single-payer health care, less-than-silent defense of entitlements, and his deploration of free trade, he is often ideologically to the left of Clinton–and even Sanders. Trump is not confined to the traditional standards of American elections; he instead embraces his own form of politics that is plagued with inconsistencies.
Therefore, in my opinion, Trump poses a threat to conservatism greater than a threat that Clinton or Sanders could pose. Yes, Clinton or Sanders could beat the Republican nominee and win the White House in 2016. And although they could beat conservatism, they could not redefine it. With his overwhelming and unpenetrable lead, Trump wields a unique power to rebrand conservatism with a tinge of Trumpism. The party that once stood for small government and faith in the individual? No longer. If the GOP gives in and gives Trump the nomination, the Republican Party has officially put their stamp of approval on policies that go contrary not only to conservatism, but American values as well. With his flagrant disregarding of religious freedom, ignorance of foreign affairs, and his unrestrained ego, Trump represents a new brand of conservatism that is both ignorant and hypocritical.
The GOP ought to nominate whoever best represents the ideas of conservatism, even if that individual does not possess the widespread appeal that Trump does. If the Republican Party boldly decides to nominate someone who often goes contrary to conservatism, they destroy the credibility of their party and set the precedent for inconsistent candidates in the future.
Scenario 2: This option would involve doubling down and throwing more money behind an establishment candidate. This is probably the lesser of two evils, but it is still a less-than-ideal option.
If the GOP is to dedicate a sufficient amount of resources behind a specific candidate, there is a good chance that an exact repeat of the last 6 months will occur. Despite the millions of dollars backing him or her, the candidate will still receive lackluster approval and less-than-lackluster performance in the polls (in comparison to Trump). Since mid-July, Trump has run a campaign that demonizes big-money donors, establishment candidates, and career politicians. The ads created by excessive amounts of campaign money may influence those typically politically apathetic. Yet for those Trumpists who blindly follow their leader regardless of all circumstance, the money a candidate receives will only translate into hate and mistrust.
Such mistrust will exist for two reasons: First, because whenever another candidate poses the slightest threat to Mr. Trump, he goes on the offensive and typically attacks that candidate with some exotic form of slander (that his supporters crave). And second, because such big-money establishmentesque donations only represent the very type of politicians that Trump fans hate.
Doubling down may be the GOP’s best option because it is their only realistic one. Throwing more money behind a candidate is necessary to kill the Trump lead, but its eventual victory will be the result of a long, violent war.
Trump’s entry into the race for president has put the GOP at a crossroads. Choosing which road to take will be a strategic and tactical decision that, all in all, will likely end with less-than-satisfactory results. The decision to be made now is not related to what the GOP should do, it is what the Republican Party must do to survive.