US Analysis: Will Trump Wreck the Republican Party?

PHOTO: Donald Trump and his opponents at the Republican Party debate on Thursday night

Writing for Deutsche Welle, Michael Knigge posted his provocative question before Mitt Romney’s anti-Trump intervention and last night’s acrimonious Republican debate in Detroit; however, the analysis — with contributions from EA — appears even more relevant after events which descended into Donald Trump bragging about his private parts while calling Senator Marco Rubio “little man” and Senator Ted Cruz “a liar”:

When Donald Trump was dominating media coverage and riding high in the polls last year the phenomenon was dubbed the “Summer of Trump” with the expectation that, like all summers, this one would eventually fade and give way to fall. But the equinox never came.

Instead, half a year and more than a dozen primaries later, Trump is not only still dominating global headlines, but is now ensconced as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

What makes Trump’s seemingly unstoppable rise particularly intriguing is the fact that it was orchestrated explicitly against the very party whose nomination he was seeking. From day one Trump’s behavior and lack of decorum made his disdain for the Grand Old Party clear.

Hijacking the GOP

The Republican establishment’s alarm bells finally rang when Trump publicly threatened to run as an independent should he not get the party’s nomination. At least from that point on, it should have been evident to everyone, that Trump had little interest in the party itself, but was simply using it as a vehicle to get into the White House.

See also US Audio Analysis: After Super Tuesday, President Trump or President Clinton?
US Analysis: Super Tuesday’s Big Loser? The Republican Party
US Analysis: Will the Republicans Ever Recover from Trump’s Paranoid Style?

The stunned establishment reaction to Trump’s threat was to extract a vague vow from him that he would not do such a thing after all and to hope that the man deemed next in line to become the nominee, Jeb Bush, would eventually make Trump go away somehow. It never happened. Bush’s campaign never got off the ground and fizzled out before Super Tuesday.

“And so the GOP’s nightmare becomes reality,” said Scott Lucas, a professor of American Politics at the University of Birmingham in the UK. “They are saddled with a candidate who, claiming no knowledge of the KKK, is unlikely to gain African-American votes. A candidate, who wants to build a wall with Mexico, has likely alienated Hispanic-Americans. A candidate, who, with his derogatory statements about women, risks the support of 50 percent of the US population.”

“Biggest Crisis Since Teddy Roosevelt”

When the relationship between the presumptive nominee and the party’s leadership is characterized by outright contempt for one another what does this say about the state of the Republican Party?

“It is certainly the biggest crisis the Republicans have faced since probably Teddy Roosevelt,” said James Davis, dean of the School of Economics and Political Science at the University of St. Gallen.

Back in 1912, former Republican president Theodore Roosevelt, dissatisfied with the conservative course of his party, created the Progressive Party to challenge Republican incumbent William Howard Taft. Taft and Roosevelt split the vote with the result that Democrat Woodrow Wilson won the election and became president.

Unlike the Roosevelt-Taft feud however, the current Republican crisis is different, noted Davis, because it is not simply the traditional internal battle among different strands of the Republican Party. “Trump is actually interesting because he is mobilizing people that weren’t necessarily part of the traditional Republican Party.”

Trump himself boasted to have “expanded the Republican Party” after his Super Tuesday win. And judging by the record turnout in many Republican primaries, like Virginia and Tennessee, he is right.

“The number of people participating in these primaries is really dramatic,” said Davis. “It is almost as if he is creating a new Republican Party and not sort of mobilizing a faction that has been silent for a long time within the party.”

His colleague Lucas agrees that Trump’s rise can’t be understood by simply looking at it through the prism of the traditional conservative-moderate split inside the Republican Party. That’s because Trump, he contends, is neither a traditional moderate nor the classic, fire-breathing archconservative, “but an outsider exploiting an opportunity.”

Farewell to the Party of Lincoln

The big question is whether the support Trump has received not just from disenfranchised white voters, but also from the likes of the Ku Klux Klan or the Nation of Islam can somehow be squared with the party of Abraham Lincoln.
“The Republican Party today looks very different,” said Davis. “It is so different from its roots. This was the party of Lincoln that abolished slavery and now it is being supported by the Ku Klux Klan. This was the party of Reagan who advocated for a North American free trade area and now it wants to build a wall along the Mexican border.”

While some traditional Republicans like former presidential candidate Chris Christie have already made their peace with Trump, parts of the Republican establishment appear to finally have realized that Trump’s nomination could herald the end of the party as they know it.

Consequently, as Politico reported, various anti-Trump groups are now pumping money into Florida as part of a last-ditch effort to boost Marco Rubio ahead of the primary there. On a different front, more than 50 Republican notables released a letter warning of Trump’s non-existing foreign policy chops.

The establishment’s last hope is to somehow prop up Trump’s opponents to a point that would prevent him at least from winning an outright majority of delegates before the Republican Party’s convention this summer. With no clear winner, the party’s various factions would then get together and jointly anoint a nominee who represents the Republican Party.

If all of this sounds like a far-fetched idea in an election year characterized by anti-establishment furor, that’s because it is.

Put differently, this “scenario appears remote”, said Lucas.

Related Posts

Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.


  1. Farewell to the Party of Lincoln – Republicans are surpporting the biggest buffoon
    this century has seen
    Parallel to the expansion of the socially oriented political center, the movement of the “New Rights” have established at the United States of America, – initially still highly fragmented – but which is not just conservative, but rejects more or less openly the institutions of the traditional order.
    Their common denominator is an ideological amalgam of national disappointment about the change of the international foreign policy role of the US – connected with a mindless but aggressive attitude against rational kowledge and against a rational dealings with todays political problems.
    The leader is politicaly playing the “double game” – using equally the pool of arguments from both prevailing and state-supporting parties. The programmatic principles of Trumpelini are diffuse and for the practical politics of the Republican Party they are useless and completely meaningless even at this stage.
    Trumpelini – an outsider exploiting an opportunity only? Definitly not.
    The upper comment – partly modernized – is about how the rise of Benito Mussolini is described by historians.

  2. Serious call to the political minds of enlightenment
    Trumpelini – the mixture of Il Duce and Silvio Berlusconi with atomic bombs is dangerous
    I really wonder about the the blindness of many participants about the new born movement of the New Rights which is triggered and created by the greatest rat catcher and flashbang this century has ever seen so far.
    Europe is watching the rise of Trumpelini with dismay because if anybody than Europe knows than democrcies can collapse. But when USA seems tempted by a later day – Mussolini – paris and berlin
    gives way of alarm. (where the hell is London – cuddling with UKIP?)
    Trumpelini retweets to his 6 Million followers: “”It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep”” ( Original Mussolini quote) It`s not that Trumelini refuses the amercian father of a modernized racism of Mr. Duke but being allied with the Ku Klux Klan- it`s violence is which is the main character of Trumpelinis speeches.
    It`s time to find a clear language against the clown disguised as Il Duce the second. Together with the pre-fascist Zar Putin he can cause a lot of damage.

    • “with atomic bombs is dangerous”
      Bizarre. The reason why you and the political establishment hate Trump so much, is because of all candidates he has the least inclination for an aggressive foreign policy and military aggression. Therefore, it is of course him that can be trusted most not to do anything stupid with the US nuclear arsenal.
      Or do you mean with “dangerous” the danger that the bombs will NOT be used? I would not put that beyond you….

  3. Neocons do not want Trump.
    Republican voters vs. Republican Establishment. I think the neocon establishment is about to shoot itself in the head. Good riddance.

  4. Trump throws the GOP into an identity crisis
    “I’ve never seen a very successful person who wasn’t flexible. Who didn’t have a certain degree of flexibility. … You have to be flexible. Because you learn.”
    Donald Trump at the Fox News GOP primary debate after a video montage in which moderators showed him changing his mind about the Iraq War, about whether to admit Syrian refugees, about whether President George W. Bush had lied to the American public.
    At Thursday’s debate, Trump said, “I beat Hillary Clinton in many polls.” Trump is wrong, according to the list of general election match-ups maintained by Real Clear, Clinton almost always consistently beats Trump, as does her rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders.
    Only a year ago, Republicans were congratulating themselves on having the strongest field of presidential candidates in a generation — diverse, highly credentialed conservatives who might be the salvation of a party that had lost the popular vote in five of the past six elections.
    But now, the question is how close the Grand Old Party will come===
    to annihilating itself and what it stands for.====================
    Donald Trump — dismissed by GOP elders for months as an entertaining fringe figure who would self-destruct — has staged a hostile takeover and rebranded the party in his own image. What is being left by the wayside is any sense of a Republican vision for the country or a set of shared principles that could carry the party forward.
    A substance-free shout-fest billed as a presidential debate Thursday night marked a new low in a campaign that has seen more than its share of them.
    The increasingly prohibitive front-runner and his three remaining opponents spent nearly the entire two hours hurling insults back and forth, with Trump at one point making a reference to the size of his genitalia.
    “My party is committing suicide on national television,” tweeted Jamie Johnson, an Iowa political operative who had been an adviser to former Texas governor Rick Perry, one of the dozen Republicans whose presidential campaigns have been incinerated by the Trump phenomenon. The latest, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, formally dropped out Friday.
    “Republicans in general tend to be a group of people who like to view themselves as serious, having decorum, being orderly, being thoughtful,” said Roger Porter, who served as a senior policy official in the White Houses of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and who is now a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
    But, he said, the debate “was the culmination of a long process of the people running for president this year finding themselves drug into a maelstrom in which they look anything but serious and calm and thoughtful and responsible. That’s very distressing for most Republicans. How did we get to this situation?”
    More urgent, many Republicans say, is the question of how they get out of it.
    Part of the decision is how to handle Trump himself.
    Republican leaders are divided. Some are focusing their efforts on stopping the billionaire celebrity, even if it means overturning the will of GOP voters at the July convention in Cleveland. Others are arguing that they should coalesce behind him, so that Republicans will have their best chance this fall of beating Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, who is not without her own vulnerabilities.
    How a fractured field just might block Trump and force a brokered convention View Graphic
    Beyond that, some worry that even as Trump is bringing record numbers to the polls in the primary race, he is changing the very identity of the party. He is a new kind of Republican, one who flaunts his apostasies on conservative principles, who slings vulgar and divisive language, and who has an ostentatious disregard for the system.
    All of which captures a current in the electorate. “The main pendulum in American politics is no longer swinging from left to right. It’s swinging between insiders and outsiders,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.). “It’s those in the political class against those who are not — that’s the divide in the country, in the party.”
    Arthur Brooks, an independent who heads the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank, said that “this is completely predictable, given where we are in the recovery from our financial crisis.”
    “Financial crises take 15 to 20 years to clear, as a historical matter, and after two or three years, wealthy people have recovered, but working people haven’t,” he said. “So the result is they turn to populist solutions, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing.”
    The GOP has always had internal tensions, but they have generally been over ideology — pitting its internationalists against its more libertarian non-interventionists on foreign policy, or its supply-siders vs. its deficit hawks on fiscal issues.
    “What is happening now is bigger and less remediable in part because the battles in the past were over conservatism, an actual political philosophy,” Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, a former Reagan speechwriter, wrote in the wake of Trump’s string of victories in the Super Tuesday contests this week.
    “We are witnessing history. Something important is ending,” she added.
    During the debate, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) insisted: “We are not going to turn over the conservative movement, or the party of Lincoln or Reagan, for example, to someone whose positions are not conservative. To someone who last week defended Planned Parenthood for 30 seconds [on] a debate stage. To someone, for example, that has no ideas on foreign [policy] — someone who thinks the nuclear triad is a rock band from the 1980s.”
    That is in part because the party put itself in handcuffs on that question in September, when its leaders were terrified that Trump would bolt and run as an independent. He signed an oath to support whomever wins the nomination.
    Still, Republicans are closely divided on the impact that Trump is having on their party’s image. In a December Marist poll for MSNBC and Telemundo, 43 percent of those surveyed said he is helping the GOP brand, while 40 percent said he is hurting it.
    “I don’t see this as having that big of a long-term effect, because I think it is sui generis to Donald Trump,” Porter said. “It’s very big in the short run. I don’t think it’s very big over the long run, because people have very short memories.”

Leave a Comment