Republican Party in Crisis: Death by Trump or Defeat by the Democrats

The spectacular rise of billionaire businessman Donald Trump to lead the race for the Republican presidential nomination has brought with it a profusion of confused of messages from an equally confused Republican party. “I hope it’s not him [Trump]” governor Bobby Jindal remarked on the potential republican nominee for president. If it is Trump, “the GOP establishment is done for”. Yet, in seeming contradiction to his earlier remarks, the door had not yet fully closed. If it came down to Trump and Clinton, the governor retorted unabashedly, he “would certainly support Donald Trump as the nominee.” [1] Others have been less conflicted in their decision.

“I could not ever have fathomed a situation where I would vote for a Democrat president, especially not HRC [Hilary Rodham Clinton]” wrote one so-called die-hard Republican voter. “However, the impossible has happened … he [Trump] has forced me to consider voting for a Clinton.” Another wrote that “a Donald Trump nomination would destroy the conservative cause. I think Hillary Clinton in the White House would be a disaster, but is far preferable to Trump. What a sad moment for the GOP.” According to the Bloomberg View, more than half of disaffected republicans interviewed would consider voting and even giving money to the Democratic nominee just so long as it wasn’t Trump. [2]

A letter from 119 Republican heavyweights on national security and foreign policy similarly declared their divorce from a Republican campaigned with Trump at the helm.  “As committed and loyal Republicans, we are unable to support a party ticket with Mr. Trump at its head” they wrote. More significantly however, the signatories – of which included Robert Kagan of the Council on Foreign Relations and prominent neoconservative leader, Michael Chertoff, former director of Homeland Security, Eric Edelman, former Under Secretary of Defence Policy, and Robert Zoellick, former deputy Secretary of State – professed to being committed “to working energetically to prevent the election of someone so utterly unfitted to the office.” [3]

Trump’s ability to abuse the Republican establishment with unfounded accusations and promises of unrealistic policies has caused significant resentment within the political establishment. But it has been, for better or worse, Trump’s style. And it has worked. Unabashed racism, unremitted demagoguery, and an egomaniacal claim to greatness, these are Trump’s attributes for the highest office of government. It is the nativist technique popular in US politics. We saw it adopted by William Jennings Bryan, and it almost worked. Yet lacking in the virtuousness of former great leaders he aspires to, Trumps claim to fame, glory and power is instead reminiscent of the greed of former tyrannical dictators.

It is against this aforementioned fashion, as former Central Intelligence Agency chief and retired General Michael Hayden claimed, that top military leaders may in fact “refuse to act” on some of Trumps more outlandish promises were he to become president. These claims include the targeting of families of terrorists for annihilation and the return of waterboarding torture techniques and “a hell of a lot worse” to interrogate terrorists and the families of terrorists captured during Trumps presidency . The military, Gen. Hayden remarked, would be required to refuse an order in conflict with standing laws. Some of Trumps proposals, he continued, “would be in violation of all the international laws of armed conflict.” [4]

Whither the Republican establishment? Republican leaders in office have refused to neither fully deny Trump the full support of the GOP nor fully back the hugely popular businessman. Tainted by the failures of establishment favourite former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and second favourite Florida Senator Marco Rubio, the GOP is running out of choices. While a brokered convention may be the last choice for Republicans to deny Trump the presidency, maintaining both houses of Congress, according to the rhetoric of Senate House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has now taken priority. Hedging has become the new strategy.

Driven by the need to hold onto Congress (if all else shall fail), sitting republican Senators and Congressman have split with the party base not only on Trump but also Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Cruz, Trump’s closest opponent, has similarly failed to earn the support of the establishment prompting the question as to what it is the GOP wants. Is the party of no willing also to be the party of no candidate?

Republicans cannot deny that Trump has brought a league of “brand new voters” to the increasingly voter-stale party (a large portion of which represents a surge of angry ‘anti-establishment’ voters). Nor can they deny that Trump’s voters represent a greater diversity of the American population Republicans have been particularly poor at attracting. More than that however, the last thing Republicans want is to appear to be weak, divided or both. A contested convention in July would be nasty. The possibility of a “riot” is not unthinkable given Trump’s particular movement of angry supporters.

The GOP establishment however is running out of time. Stuck in a paroxysm of its own creation, the symptoms point to an identity crisis. The inevitable decision is unappealing: death by Trump, or defeat by the Democrats.


[1] http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/273317-jindal-the-gop-establishment-is-done-for-after-trump

[2] http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2016-02-29/the-die-hard-republicans-who-say-nevertrump

[3] http://edition.cnn.com/2016/03/03/politics/donald-trump-neocons-election-2016/

[4] http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2016/02/27/former-cia-chief-says-military-could-defy-donald-trumps-orders/

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Adam Bartley is a Researcher and PhD candidate at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bartley.aa@gmail.com

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