The Republican Party, which had been united ideologically since Ronald Reagan left office, is now splintered. It might go the way of the Whig Party and be replaced altogether by a new party with a different name. Or, it might continue on as a populist and nationalist party that has the same name but is not ideologically recognizable as the Republican Party that existed before Donald Trump.
The case for a new center/right party has been made by Eliot A. Cohen, a former Defense and State Department official in the Bush 41 and Bush 43 administrations. Cohen summarizes the plight facing many Republicans today:
It’s over. Donald Trump, a man utterly unfit for the position by temperament, values and policy preferences, will be the Republican nominee for president. He will run against Hillary Clinton, who is easily the lesser evil but is trailed by clouds of scandal and misconduct and whose party’s left wing poses its own threats to liberties of speech, religion, enterprise and association. … A Trump candidacy is a disgrace and has indeed already damaged us at home and abroad, but the longer-term question is larger than one demagogue, dangerous though he is. It is whether the cause of free, limited and constitutional government will have someone to speak for it and to represent it now and for decades to come.
Many will challenge Cohen’s belief that Clinton is the lesser evil. A case can be made that she indeed is the greater evil, because she will have to be responsive to her party which has moved ever leftward. She needs to be careful not to alienate Sanders supporters, or groups like Black Lives Matter. She is most likely to pander to them on domestic issues, since her base will pressure her and then support whatever ill-advised policy she comes out with when she is in the White House. This is particularly the case on economic and environmental policies — such as her desire to ban fracking — where she tends to be far left.
By crossing traditional lines on issues, now there is a chance that Trump will precipitate a realignment in the parties. Some Democrats find this reassuring. At times Trump certainly sounds like a liberal Democrat. Just yesterday, he announced he favors a hike in the federal minimum wage, a position anathema to conservatives and Republicans. Indeed, Trump seems to have such a realignment in mind when he predicts that many of Sanders’ supporters will turn to him, as will working-class Democrats and independents.
This argument has just been made by a liberal Democrat, Brent Dubowsky, writing today in the Observer:
As this column goes to press the latest controversy surrounding Mr. Trump, who has argued that American workers are overpaid, is that he is now hinting that he may support an increase in the minimum wage, which he previously opposed. While liberal Democrats including myself would welcome any candidate supporting an increase in the minimum wage, conservative Republicans, who strongly question the degree of Mr. Trump’s conservatism and in Mr. Will’s case view Mr. Trump as anathema to conservative values and principles, will be horrified at this potentially radical change of direction.
Brian Beutler, a senior editor at the left-wing, formerly center-right New Republic, writes that Donald Trump may turn out not to be so bad after all if he takes the path of treating the Constitution, the separation of powers, and the executive branch as a liberal Democrat would. Trump has authoritarian tendencies, he argues, but rather than create a constitutional crisis and rule in a manner similar to Putin in Russia, he could end gridlock in Congress, compromise with Democrats, and end polarization. What Trump could accomplish, writes Beutler, is nothing less than “doom for the Republican Party.”
Moreover, noting Trump’s promise not to have any entitlement reform and not to touch Social Security and Medicare, Beutler says Trump would be able to do just what liberal Democrats have always sought — except this time Republicans would not be able to oppose it. Rather than actually repeal Obamacare, Beutler suggests that Trump would:
… preserve a liberal health-coverage guarantee while reshaping our insurance system dramatically enough that Republicans could claim to have repealed and replaced Obamacare. This would create political detente on an issue that has divided the parties for decades.
He concludes that what Trump will destroy is not our country, but:
… the rot at the nexus of movement conservatism and Republican politics.
On foreign policy, Republican campaign strategist Steve Schmidt said this last week:
Donald Trump will be running to the left of Hillary Clinton on national security issues. … [T]he candidate in the race most like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney from a foreign policy perspective is in fact Hillary Clinton, not the Republican nominee.
Schmidt believes that Clinton will make a direct appeal to senior Republican foreign policy/national security figures to join her campaign.
Schmidt’s evaluation is confirmed in the article that appeared in the New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago by Mark Landler: “How Hillary Became a Hawk.” Hillary Clinton, Landler writes, “has a strong appetite for military engagement abroad,” and believes in the military as a vehicle for both fighting terrorism and gaining worldwide influence. She believes “American intervention does more good than harm,” has an “affinity for the armed forces,” and like it or not, is “the last true hawk in the race.”
Moreover, one of her top consultants is General Jack Keane, who most know as Fox News’ military analyst. Landler calls him “the greatest single influence on the way Hillary Clinton thinks about military issues.” Thus, the current election would pit Trump, who favors restraint and is a reluctant warrior, against Clinton, the “democratic hawk.”
Others retort that both parties have their neo-isolationists and “realists.” Indeed, some argue that Donald Trump’s foreign policy ideas are most similar to those of Barack Obama. In that regard, a Trump administration would be Obama’s third term when it comes to our national security and foreign policy.
The above scenario, however, is not what Republicans now sprinting to support Trump want. If Trump does act the way Beutler thinks he will, liberals will be delighted and conservatives depressed. So the debate boils down to this. Will conservatives and Republicans have a better chance to influence the administration under a Trump presidency, or will Trump ruin the Republican Party for decades to come?Conservative law professor and author David Bernstein believes the latter:
The man is a crude charlatan, an ignoramus, a fraud, conducting a modern medicine show that combines the worst of politics with the worst of professional wrestling. He is a disaster for the Republican Party, limited government, (what remains of) decency in politics, the Constitution, and the country … I’d rather Hillary Clinton win. I’d rather (and I never thought I’d say this) Barack Obama serve a third term. I’d even rather Bernie Sanders win, though if it came down to Sanders vs. Trump it might be time to form a breakaway republic. If Trump wins the nomination, I will actively seek to prevent him from becoming president.
These are indeed strange times. The Republican candidate for president has led some left/liberal writers to believe they might not have to worry about him should he win. Meanwhile, Republicans and conservatives who focus on foreign policy think Hillary Clinton is the kind of mainstream foreign policy hawk that Republicans have supported in the past. They find their own candidate to be closer to isolationist Bernie Sanders than to Hillary Clinton.
The jury is still out on how conservatives and Republicans will finally decide how to deal with the phenomenon of Donald Trump.