Both Donald Trump’s supporters and detractors seem to agree that the rise of his rogue candidacy was precipitated by years of widening divergence between the Republican base and its established leadership. Trump, himself representing nearly nothing of substance, has become the consummate protest candidate. While many may be attracted to his nationalist rhetoric about rounding up illegals, taking on China, and making America great again, many others see through the facade, know Trump’s candidacy will mortally wound the party, and merely want to watch the world burn.
Regardless of how we came to this point, it seems clear that the rise of Donald Trump signals a transformative moment in American politics. No matter how things sort out, the Republican Party will change. A report from the Associated Press sets the stage:
On the eve of Super Tuesday’s crucial primaries, a sharp new divide erupted between Republicans who pledge to fall in line behind Donald Trump if he wins their party’s nomination and others who insist they can never back the bombastic billionaire.
The fissure could have major implications beyond the primaries, exposing the looming challenges in uniting the party after the election, no matter who wins.
Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, a rising star among conservatives, became the first current senator to publicly raise the prospect of backing a third-party option if Trump clinches the nomination. In a letter posted on Facebook late Sunday, Sasse urged Republicans to consider whether a party led by Trump would still represent their interests.
“If our party is no longer working for the things we believe in — like defending the sanctity of life, stopping Obamacare, protecting the Second Amendment, etc. — then people of good conscience should stop supporting that party until it is reformed,” he wrote.
Sasse’s stance has proven indicative of many Republicans across the party’s spectrum of ideology who have pledged to reject Trump, even if he becomes the party’s nominee. The #NeverTrump movement may be unprecedented. Certainly, this writer cannot immediately recall a time in American history when either party had a substantial uprising against its own nominee for president.
The disunity has not been brought on by Trump. Rather, his candidacy has brought to light a disunity which has festered for several cycles. Regardless, the situation all but ensures a Democrat victory in November, which will likely have repercussions lasting generations in light of the status of the Supreme Court. The Republican Party could be entering a period of utter irrelevance. The question becomes how much damage will be done to the republic between now and however long it takes for the party to reform.