Donald Trump’s candidacy isn’t going to destroy the Republican party for several reasons. First and foremost, our first-past-the-post voting system makes it difficult to have anything other than a two party system. So even if the faces and the issue change, there will very likely be a Republican party in some form permanently. Second, the party itself is strong in the states and local government.
But the mystique of the presidency, which is much greater than its actual power, has been a difficult ask for the Republicans for a while now. Without completely omitting too many details, this is down to one simple reason: the Republican party is the white christian nationalist party. People can deny this all they want, but it’s the only unifying thread of the vast constituencies. It is this, as evidence by Trump’s nomination, even more than it is the conservative party. A conservative party never would have enacted No Child Left Behind or Medicare Part D.
I actually believe, unlike most liberals, that there is actually more or less always going to be a demand for a pro-business party of the 1% (or at least of the 5%). I actually believe that in moderation this can be a good thing—that our way of life demands a properly balanced yin and yang of capitalism and safety nets that is neither Ted Cruz nor Bernie Sanders. But, unlike most people, I simply don’t believe that the Republican party of 2016 (or really at any point since 1968) has been the party of business. Business has been one of its constituencies, but not the only one.
I actually also believe, unlikely most liberals, that we could be less punitive with respect to religion—and I think most liberals’ hatred of religion mirrors the intolerance they claim to deplore. This doesn’t mean agreeing with their bizarre logic about “religious freedom” including the right to force your beliefs on others.
I actually also strongly believe, like most mainstream Democrats, that the world is not ready for a major withdraw of the American presence across the globe. In 2016, even the stability of Europe is in doubt between terrorism, refugees, and economic crises—not to mention separatism and the Ukraine crisis. If Europe can’t even seem to manage alone, how do we expect the more troubled regions of the world to do so? This doesn’t meant we need to keep repeating the mistakes of Iraq and Vietnam, but it does mean that there’s no going back to 1916.
So there is a market there for the supposed strengths of the Republican party. But what keeps them from it? Their anti-identity politics. As much as I dislike the identity McCarthyism of the left, especially in its current “intersectionalist” form, it’s at least preferable to making the situation worse.
But this is what will be the hardest for them to let go of. It may not be possible. For whatever else Trump stands for, he stands for being against this. Being against accommodating anyone with our choice of words, or any of our practices for that matter. The Mexicans are the enemy; build the wall. The blacks are killing police; police lives matter (ha! on you). Et cetera.
People, especially young people, seem to see no middle ground between these poles. You are either a racist or a social justice warrior. The irony is, we are just months away from one of the most rapid and politically successful liberation movements in history: that of gay rights. The reaction of the left is to immediately push this to include new genders and sexualities that break the logic of fairness behind the gay rights movement. The reaction of the right? The aforementioned “religious freedom” ruse. At least the left is trying to consider the underdog.
On all of these issues, the group that strikes the right balance (to me) between these issues is actually the mainstream of the Democratic party as represented by Barack Obama. But it appears that there is a pull to the left that may manifest itself even more aggressively in the next few years.
But assuming they want to be a national party again, the Republicans need to moderate their relations with minorities. This is hard because it actually means listening to their issues even when they demand exceptions to your ideology. (For example, as Bernie Sanders learned, class before race doesn’t appeal to minorities.) And in doing so, you’ll find that they will have to moderate their extreme pro-market views, moderate their christian triumphalism, and their hawkishness will need to be founded on security concerns rather than nationalism or hatred of the enemy, at least to a greater extent.
This is necessary for any party that wants to win nationally simply on the basis of demographics. Before long, whites will be a bare majority or even just a plurality, and assuming there are even a few white Democrats left, this dooms the Republicans. Their only hope is to find a way to appeal to the minorities on their other issues by not ruling themselves out on other issues.
Only a Republican presidential candidate with this goal could change the whole party, the way Reagan and Goldwater remade it the last time, but local candidates could give it a test run in blue states. They might be ready for this in 2020 if everything unfolds as we think.