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.