Ron Radosh

Whither the Republican Party After the Election?

Last Sunday, speaking on Fareed Zakaria GPS, columnist Bret Stephens said the following:

Well, if I make a prediction now and it’s mistaken, it will be replayed endlessly against me. But what I’m hoping is going to happen is that Mrs. Clinton is going to win the Electoral College and popular vote decisively.

And the reason I hope that and I say this as someone who’s voted Republican all my life is because I think that the wing of the party that Donald Trump represents needs to be rebuked. People have to understand in the words of Talleyrand, it’s worse than a crime, it’s a mistake. This is not the way the Republican party ought to go.

I think if it’s a very close vote, the view will be that Trump was in effect stabbed in the back by people like me, Republicans who simply could not bring themselves in any way to embrace his brand of politics. But I’d also like to see is Republicans hold the House and Senate. And so I’m going to vote Republican down ballot and have divided and hopefully productive constructive government.

Although the polls have tightened and no one really knows for sure what is going to happen, it is looking likely that Hillary Clinton will win the Electoral College vote, but only by a very slim margin. Indeed, there is still a chance that Donald Trump might win, although his path to victory is slimmer.

Nevertheless, Stephens has put his finger on a problematic question for the GOP: what will the Republican Party stand for after the election?

Will it be able to once again become a political party that can successfully compete with liberals for the support of the American people? Will it be able to put forward sound conservative solutions to major problems facing all of us, or will it be a revolutionary populist-nationalist party that seeks to tear down and destroy the edifice of our democracy?

To put it another way, will the GOP function as a political party representing Americans of a conservative bent, or will it be taken over completely by the revolutionary forces that want to destroy our political institutions, led by Trump’s current campaign chief, Steve Bannon?

His goal should not come as a surprise. Bannon himself told me at a party held in 2012, as I explained in a Daily Beast article, that he considers himself a “Leninist,” and as he put it, “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” Bannon was employing Lenin’s strategy for nationalist and populist goals. He included in the group he wanted to bring down both the Republican and Democratic parties, as well as the traditional conservative press.

Bannon seeks to destroy the current Republican Party, not to rehabilitate it and make it an effective and serious organization. His endgame was explained by New York Times columnist Timothy Egan, who writes:

Trump himself does not have a plan. He certainly doesn’t have a governing philosophy. When asked about his Supreme Court values, the only threat of the Constitution he could talk about was the Second Amendment. But he is, in the words attributed to Bannon, doing all he can to bring everything crashing down.

Hence, if Clinton’s victory is by a relatively small margin, I would not be surprised if the Trump campaign refuses to acknowledge the results. Will Trump be able to be magnanimous in accepting the election’s results and his defeat, like Richard Nixon did when JFK won, and Al Gore did after George W. Bush won the recount? After all, the worst epithet in Trump’s book is that someone is a loser. Thus, it may be very hard for Trump to accept that he actually is one. To avoid it, he will most likely double down on the narrative that he had actually won, but the election was stolen from him.

And what will become of the Republican Party after the election? Will it become a populist-nationalist party? Efforts are already underway to prevent this from happening by both reform conservatives and anti-Trump Republicans, who have formed a new group called “Restart GOP,” which as Eliana Johnson, quoting what a member says, explains is a group “dedicated to post-November party reform.”

Their argument is that Trump is an aberration that hooked onto the GOP and that can be removed after his electoral downfall. Their goal is to prevent Trump’s forces from picking a new speaker of the House as well as taking over the next Republican National Committee. A leaflet they distributed at their first meeting chastised GOP leaders for putting “money and power before principle and country.”

No one has articulated the task ahead for the GOP better than Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, who served in the last three Republican administrations and is a noted Trump critic. Writing in a regular column he contributes to the New York Times, he argues that such reform must take place, or “the Republican Party will continue to inflict great harm on our republic.” That means the GOP must repudiate anti-intellectualism, stop engaging in political recklessness, and stop appealing to nativism and xenophobia.

Wehner writes:

Republicans need to wrestle with more fundamental questions first: Will their party choose as its leaders people who respect democratic institutions and traditions, or not; who conceive of America as a welcoming society or as one that is racially and religiously closed …who admire or oppose tyrants; who respect truth or view it in purely utilitarian ways; who abhor ignorance or embrace it? Will Republicans gravitate toward leaders who have authoritarian tendencies, who incite violence in their followers, and whose personalities are vindictive, cruel and disordered?

In other words, will the GOP that emerges be one defined by its best lights who follow the traditions laid down by Abraham Lincoln, or will it follow the path advocated by Bannon and flame-throwers like Ann Coulter?  If the latter, it is possible that conservatives and mainstream Republicans will leave the GOP’s ranks. If the GOP emerges as the equivalent of European style right-wing nationalist parties, it will only strengthen the ability of the far left in the Democratic Party to gain its ends, because there will be no effective political force to oppose them.

Max Boot argues in his latest column that Republicans should vote for Clinton and for Republicans down ballot. He believes it is important for Republicans to control at least one house of Congress. Otherwise, Clinton will not be able to institute sound centrist policies “in the face of a Congress controlled by Democrats who are to her left (which is most of them).” At the same time, it will enable Republicans to work with Clinton to achieve solutions to our seemingly intractable problems. Then there could be real bipartisan cooperation, which is exactly what Bill Clinton achieved when working with Newt Gingrich to pass welfare reform and to eliminate the deficit.

This election is certainly historic. Perhaps its lasting significance will be the realignment and redefinition of a major political party. But let us put an end to the doom and gloom scenario that some on both sides are making. No matter who wins, I am confident that our country, which survived the Civil War, will survive the election of 2016.