The Republican Party after Trump

Patricio Navia

Buenos Aires Herald, May 17, 2016


The presumptive presidential candidate of the US Republican Party, Donald J. Trump, faces an uphill battle in his quest to become the 45th president of the United States. Unless the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton self-destructs, she should end up winning the election. Yet, regardless of what happens to candidate Trump, the revolt he has sparked within the Republican Party will likely alter the political map of the United States for years to come.


If Trump loses, Republicans will need to devise a plan to attract a majority of the ever-changing US electorate. After decades in which it has been a party whose leadership promoted policies that were not necessarily favourable to the party’s electoral base, the Republican Party will be hard pressed to align the policies of the party with the needs and aspirations of its voters.


Trump surprised everyone with his hostile takeover of the Republican Party. When the campaign first began, Trump was just a loud candidate in a crowded field. Few analysts gave him a chance of clinching the nomination. But Trump understood the mood of the electorate better than his rivals. He attracted voters who had not previously participated in primaries, expanding the base of the party and undermining the influence of political operatives and the traditional party apparatus. He also benefitted from the dispersion of the loyalist Republican base, clinching early primary victories with less than a majority of the vote.


The Republican Party elites reacted too late. Trump was already on his way to securing the nomination. Though there is still a slim chance that the Republican convention may deny Trump the nod, the most likely way in which the Republican Party elite can block the mogul’s road to the White House is by promoting a third-party candidate. Such a candidate would make it almost impossible for Trump to put on a competitive challenge against Hillary Clinton.


Though recent polls show that the race will be close — and Clinton is finding it difficult to put Senator Bernie Sanders out of the race and secure the nomination of the Democratic Party — most experts and betting agencies predict that the former secretary of state will defeat the likely GOP nominee. A third-party candidate would all but guarantee a Clinton victory.


Still, when he secures the nomination, Trump will be dangerously close to the US presidency. Any unexpected new scandal that involves the Clintons — a not so unlikely scenario, given the Clinton’s prior history, yet also somewhat unimaginable, given the fact that the Clintons have been so closely scrutinized — might give Trump the traction he needs to become a viable candidate. After all, the only obstacle that now stands between him and the White House is Hillary Clinton.


Inevitable consequences

Regardless of the result in November, Trump’s victory in the Republican nomination will have inevitable consequences that will likely redraw the political map in the United States.


The Republican Party will be faced with a double-edge problem. On the one hand, a Trump loss would be a sixth loss in the popular vote for the Republicans in the last seven presidential elections. The difficulty in attracting Latino voters (who make up 12 percent of the electorate and 19 percent of the national population) can be added to its long standing distance from African American voters (12 percent of the population and seven percent of the electorate). The growing alienation of female voters and homosexuals has also undermined overall support. To win, a Republican Party candidate must not just carry an overwhelming majority of white male votes, the candidate must also help increase turnout among white males. Trump has succeeded in doing that, but he has also succeeded in alienating Latinos, blacks and other groups to the extent that turnout among them is also likely to increase, if only with people who wish to vote against Trump.


After November, Republicans will also need to address the growing gap between the pro-business and market-friendly policies it has championed in the past few decades and the growing isolationist sentiments among its electoral base. Past Republican presidents championed a foreign policy that actively engaged with the world. Under Ronald Reagan, defence spending increased drastically. Under George W. Bush, the US fought wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Candidate Trump has fiercely criticized the war in Iraq, claiming that it did more harm than good. The billionaire businessman has promised that he will build up the US military, which will result in higher spending, though he will also apparently put pressure on Washington’s allies to contribute more to their own defence.


On free trade, Trump has also defied long-standing Republican policy positions. In promising to build a wall on the Mexican border and in assuring that he will revise the NAFTA agreement, Trump has broken with past Republican administrations that pushed for a strengthening of relations with Mexico. The post-Trump GOP will be forced to decide if it will reverse to its historic market-friendly and integrationist foreign policy, or if it will stick with the Trump-led isolationist revolt.


The outlook for November is not good for Republicans. Yet, the challenges after November might be even more daunting.