Trump’s candidacy and, more, his behavior on the stump have wrecked the Republican Party. David Brooks, writing in the New York Times recently offered a cosmopolitan conservative’s hope that a new Republican Party could arise out of what he suggests is a likely Trump-driven debacle. But his words are unduly optimistic. Perhaps, he argues, a new, stronger GOP emerges after Trump (either the New York businessman turned reality TV star turned politician gets the Republican nomination and goes down to defeat because of his record high negatives or he doesn’t and walks, splitting the GOP — or he does and wins and wrecks the country). But the problem with this scenario of a resurgent GOP rising phoenix-like from the Trumpian ashes is that it’s not Trump who has undone the GOP but those GOP voters who have flocked, in this primary season, to the dark standard he’s raised. It’s the support he’s won from 40%, give or take, of the GOP electorate that has made Trump the destructive force he‘s become, not Trump himself who would have gone nowhere had Republican voters actually seen through the emptiness of his message instead of being moved by the angry and mostly incoherent rhetoric he spouts whenever he’s got a microphone and camera to speak to.
GOP voters have found in his coarse, bitter, stream-of-consciousness ramblings the antithesis of the polished rhetoric of our smooth talking current president, a man most of them oppose at a deep, visceral level, a man who has made mincemeat of Republican leaders in Congress for nearly two presidential terms. Angered and frustrated (or just angry out of a sense of terminal frustration), significant numbers of Republican voters have responded to the Trumpian message to just tear the house down. And they’ve chosen to start with their own house. Rather than working within the longstanding and tested alliance of conservatives of various stripes that is the Republican Party, a substantial number of conservative GOP voters has chosen to disown other conservatives who aren’t just like them.
‘Let’s blow it all up‘ is the new rallying cry, and so they’re unfazed by Trump’s over-the-top approach to politics which focuses on demeaning opponents (including their wives and kids), schoolyard taunts and bully-boy tactics that manifest in veiled and not so veiled threats of coercion. If Trump’s words and actions threaten to explode the existing coalition that is the GOP, well these roughly 40% of GOP voters are fine with that. Indeed, they welcome it. They want their version of events and their influence to dominate. And if they can’t do that within a broader coalition consisting of other kinds of conservatives (libertarians, fiscal conservatives, internationalists) then, they seem to have decided, we’ll just toss ’em out as the “RINOs” hardcore cultural conservatives and many angry white men (and some women) think they are.
Brooks argues that the GOP will be reborn post-Trump, whatever happens. But perhaps he is being unduly optimistic here. Can the old line conservative coalition which the GOP has been since Reagan, survive a Trump-driven purge of its ranks, a movement which is so intent on getting its own way on every issue that it will smash the political mechanism which has the best chance, because of its long history and wider appeal, of actually winning back control of the executive branch in Washington and restoring policies which have a proven record of growing the nation economically and facing down the growing forces of global anarchy and violence which threaten us all? (See the elder Bush’s coalition building in order to evict a rogue Middle Eastern dictator from a small country he had arrogantly taken for his own.)
Today’s Trumpniks think their man has the answer to all that but his policies, insofar as he has enunciated any, that is, are dangerously divisive and reflect a rejection of the globalist world view that gave us international prosperity beginning in the 1980s. David Brooks thinks it can and will all blow over as new paradigms take hold post-Trump, that a new Republican age will dawn in the wake of a coming Trumpian disaster. It’s possible. But if the real problem is the rejection, by some 40% of the GOP base, of classical conservatism and the principle of political alliance which made the Republican Party successful since Reagan’s era, can it really happen?