Will Trump Break-Up the Republican Party?

Unofficially, the 2020 presidential election has been determined with Joe Biden receiving 306 electoral votes (81 million votes) to Donald Trump’s 232 electoral votes (74 million votes). Officially, the electoral votes will be approved before a joint session of Congress on January 6, 2021; and Biden will take office on January 21st.

For all Trump’s rants and tweets about voter fraud and a rigged election, one this clear – on 22nd he will no longer be president. The political questions that is emerging is whether Trump’s defeat will set the stage for the break-up of the Republican Party?

The Republic Party was founded in 1854 to oppose the spread of slavery into the western territories. The “Grand Old Party” as it came to be known was formed by disaffected members of the Whig Party opposed Pres. Andrew Jackson who many considering a tyrant. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president and, six weeks later, South Carolina seceded from the Union, setting the stage for the Civil War.

During a decade or so after the War, the South was readmitted into the Union, Jim Crow policies became the form of renewed Southern segregation and a new era of capitalism remade the country. For a century — from the days of the Robber Barons and Pres. Teddy Roosevelt to Pres. Richard Nixon — the Republican Party became increasingly the party of business interests. And “Honest Abe” was reduced to the face on the $5 bill.

Trump’s election in 2016 and re-election campaign in 2020 caped a half-century realignment of the Republican Party. The once staid “country club” conservative party of business interests morphed into a fierce display of Trump’s nativist “populism.” This shift grew out Nixon’s implementation of a bold theory — dubbed the “Southern strategy” — proposed by Kevin Phillips in 1969.

The strategy was designed to supersede the New Deal vision that anchored the white working-class and poor to the Democrats Party. It recognized that two developments were reshaping American life. First, the old – and especially white – industrial working class was in decline as a relative proportion of working people. Second, mounting racial tensions precipitated by the civil rights movement offered an invaluable legitimacy to reconfigure political alignment along racial lines not only in the South but throughout the country.

The political realignment of the white working-class and poor began under Nixon and continued under Pres. Lyndon Johnson. He sought to extend the old New Deal coalition with the “Great Society” based on a coalition with Negro/Black voters. Pres. Jimmy Carter, even though a Southern evangelical, couldn’t hold onto the white voters, especially as “stagflation” — high inflation and slow economic growth – undercut his presidency. Pres. Ronald Reagan drew what were identified as “Reagan Democrats” into the Republican Party.

The final turn of a sizable sector of white voters to the Republican Party took place under Pres. Bill Clinton. Together with Democratic Leadership Council, he forged the current neo-liberal, globalized capitalism. He embraced big capital and jettisoned the white working-class and poor. Lawrence Summers, Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, defined the structure of the rebranded Democratic Party as a “coalition of cosmopolitan elite and diversity.”

Since Clinton, the two major political parties have realigned into self-contained contradictions. The Republicans under Trump became a party of white “populist,” Christian evangelicals and racialists. The Democrats sought to embrace the tech nouveau riche of the two gold coasts along with inner-city Blacks and growing minority communities.

In the face of Trump’s defeat, Republican loyalist like Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (KY) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC) have tirelessly supported the defeated candidate. However, the Never Trump Republicans are likely rejoicing, calling for a return to the good-old-days of Reagan or the Bushes. While most the Congressional Republicans remain aligned with Trump, a growing number of Republican elected officials have acknowledged Trump’s defeat. By early December, Axios identified a growing list of Republican Senators, Representatives, governors and party leaders who’ve acknowledged Biden’s victory.

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Over the last half-century the Republican Party has witnessed a number of internal revolts in which the old order was superseded by a more aggressive faction only to be overturned by more traditional conservatives. Barry Goldwater epitomized this insurgency in his failed campaign against Johnson in 1964. Ronald Reagan’s 1980 electoral victory unified Nixon’s successful Southern strategy of white voters with the conservatism of William F. Buckley, Jr., and the policy recommendations of the Heritage Foundation.

In the wake of Reagan’s conservatism, three decades of centrist neo-liberal moderation followed under the presidencies of both dominant parties, of Bush-1 (1989-1993), Clinton (1993-2001), Bush-2 (2001-2009) and Obama (2009-2017). During this last quarter-century, American capitalism was a rollercoaster, culminating in the Great Recession of 2008-2009. The growing popular rage, epitomized by the decline quality of life and deepening white resentment, led to Trump’s 2016 electoral victory.

With his victory, Trump took control of the Republican Party. As New York Times reporter Elaina Plott observed, party dynamic changed. Writing before the the election, she noted, Republican voters “relationships to the party now flow through a single man, one who has never offered a clear vision for his political program beyond his immediate aggrandizement.” She added, “Whether Trump wins or loses in November, no one else in the party’s official ranks seems to have one, either.”

Trump lost the election, but his legacy will likely define the party for years to come. His role, Plott opined, “has been as one-dimensional as it has been total.” She adds: “In the space of one term, the president has co-opted virtually every power center in the Republican Party, from its congressional caucuses to its state parties, it’s think tanks to its political action committees. But though he has disassembled much of the old order, he has built very little in its place.”

Others share this perception. Republican strategist Brad Todd noted about Trump’s role in the party, “There’s only one political sun in the solar system and it’s him.” He added, “Some voters – a very big chunk – value his brand and it seems completely logical that he would want to continue to that. I think he will want to be relevant, and that he will be relevant.”

Former Congressman Joe Walsh (R-IL), who opposed Trump for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination, has no illusions as to Trump’s political game. “He will make life miserable for the party for the next four years. He’ll put out a word that he might want to run in 2024, so he’ll freeze all the other candidates who might want to run for president.” He adds, “If Trump doesn’t run, he will be the kingmaker. Whoever runs is going to have to kiss his ring and it will be somebody who will be Trump-like who will carry that banner.”

Nevertheless, Trump’s political ambitions might be stymied by the outstanding lawsuits and investigations pending against him. While he may be able to pardon himself from possible federal offenses (or have VP Pence do so), he still faces accusations about sexual assault and defamation as well as investigations of his and the Trump Organization’s finances by New York State attorney general and the City’s district attorney.

If Trump is sidelined or decides not to seek the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, at least a dozen Republicans are considering presidential bids of their own. One of those is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) who challenged Trump for the 2016 Republican nomination and, most recently, offered a different vision for the party. “The future of the party is based on a multiethnic, multiracial, working-class coalition,” he declared in an interview with Axios. He claims the party’s future is linked to the values of Trump’s working-class voters.

And the future of the Republican Party? Rumors are circulating that Trump’s eldest son, Donald, Jr., and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, are seeking to oust RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and secure top leadership roles in the party for themselves. Their apparent goal is to ensure Trump’s place as the party’s 2024 presidential candidate. Guilfoyle, a former Fox News host, wife to Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) and Trump campaign fundraiser, carries a lot of baggage.

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When Trump leaves office and his legal challenges play themselves out, the future of the Republican Party will be in play. In all likelihood, Trump supporters will harden the party’s ideological arteries and build a grassroots movement that could lead to an ever more reactionary Tea Party-like grouping. Such a development could fracture the party with more traditional conservatives pushing against hardline Trump populists. If – and it’s a big “if” – the Biden administration is able to contain the Covid-19 pandemic and move to overcome the economic recession, particularly by beginning to address the grievances of the white working class and poor, much of the non-racialist resentments of the hardcore Trump supports could soften if not fizzle out. Such a development could lead to a more moderate or centralist party as represented by Sen. Rubio.

And the Democrats? A similar fracturing is visible among the Democrats, with moderate’s embracing Biden’s vision of social reconciliation without struggle or a fundamental change in social relations. In reaction, so-called “progressives” may well push for a viable “democratic socialist” alternative. However, the Clinton-Obama-Biden centralists are in power and, as suggested by those chose for Biden’s cabinet, are comfortably in control.

David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.

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