I’ve touched on this topic before, that what Trump is appealing to is something that fundamentally succeeds under a democratic system better than what most of his competitors in the Republican primary are offering. At least, within the Republican Party itself, it’s more durable. With Trump leading in the polls, that might sound like basic commonsense, but it also says something far more meaningful and darker about the future of the Republican Party.
What they’ve carefully crafted over the past several decades, with Southern Strategies and Moral Majorities, are ultimately brokered deals. Those are between an electoral bloc motivated by causes artfully directed away from economic populism and a smaller set who call the shots on anything with economic relevance. This was the playbook up through the recent Bush administration – which was headed by something of a cultural representative. His accent was pretty unconvincing to many, but just trying to use one aligned him with one cultural element in the country, which remains a large electoral bloc if not plurality of voters.
His upper class background spoke to the demarcations within that Republican arrangement – if not one of he was from and familiar with the few powerful donors and representatives who held key positions and dictated economic policy. That description of his administration might sound odd, and it is incomplete in how it leaves out the inescapable and protracted debates on marriage equality and abortion. The presence of two distinctive, at times radically so, policy conversations has been the Republican modus operandi for decades. Trump has disrupted that clear boundary between the two and the larger system that created that.
Remember when all national discussion stalled to talk about the Spirit of Justice statue and her exposed breasts? Image from here.
Most clearly, his economic policies, like most of his politics, are taken as much as possible from the reactionary cultural groups tapped into by Republicans for years. Even on “social” issues, he’s touched the live wires that few other Republicans would – ones like immigration which while often talked about in terms of language and identity are impossible to have a substantive policy on without huge economic ramifications, many of which are unfavorable to major Republican donors.
In a nutshell, what I’ve said about that before is that, electorally, what he’s doing works. The prior Republican set-up requires constantly shifting public discussion from issue to issue, with each one manufacturing new ways of understanding the issue that must be bleached of any economic impact. It relies unsustainably on an ability to simultaneously engage and distract the same set of voters and supporters. Trump is just adjusting the Party, making it into something that doesn’t depend on both democratic support and undemocratic leadership at the same time.
One of the conclusions of that, however, is that he isn’t an interloper “robbing” Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or Chris Christie or anyone else of their rightful nomination within “their” Party. He’s adapting the Party from within, alienating some who don’t understand or admit the weaknesses inherent in its prior structure, but ultimately expressing the same politics in a more internally cogent way. Trump is Republican and a plurality of Republicans for months now have supported him in national polling.
(Credit to Gage Skidmore.)
Earlier this week, I saw the first major news headline to recognize what that means:
Will the GOP Mount a Third-Party Challenge to Trump? https://t.co/NybBdu0wkM
— Charlie Tapp (@charleswtapp) December 20, 2015
It’s the Republican “establishment” which would be running as the third party. Trump is the apparent Republican nominee. He is the seeming representation of Republican political philosophy. One of the responding tweets described the bluff being called in other terms
It’s worth noting that, as of now, GOP “outsiders” have consolidated their support to Trump & Cruz while the “establishment” is fragmented.
— Daniel Drezner (@dandrezner) December 21, 2015
Hopefully this is a realization that a number of people – who had the personal freedom to tune out of the “cuture wars” and write it off as a distraction – will have. Whoever in politics is still operating with that theatrical use of social issues, which always was done in a way dangerous to some, they’re no longer a major party.
The most prominent voices still using those terms aren’t just promising the moon like before, but meaningfully articulating what they want done nationally. The Republican Party’s paper tiger form wasn’t working, and Trump and others have decided to opt in favor of an actual tiger instead.