In the previous presidential election cycle, I noted that the Republican Party was clearly in a state of flux with a major fault line dividing the tea party, shrink-government-in-a-big-way wing, and the entrenched moderate/conservative establishment that favored less ambitious changes.
Fast-forward four years to the present and the GOP finds itself in the midst of a major upheaval with no clear sense of what its identity will be going forward.
With $19 trillion in debt and no end of federal deficits in sight, it is plain that our country is on an unsustainable path and requires a major change of direction. Clearly, Democrats are largely united on their unswerving course toward ever-bigger government. That leaves the GOP as the only major party with a realistic possibility of fundamentally transforming itself.
Indeed, it became glaringly clear after the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan defeat four years ago that more of the same wasn't going to cut it and that Republicans would have to offer a bolder alternative to the status quo to have any chance of overtaking the Democratic juggernaut. I have met Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, and they are two fine men, but they just aren't quite right for the times. Ryan's Big Government conservatism would keep us on the same path to bankruptcy, only temporarily slowing the pace.
The pent-up frustration of millions of Americans alienated from a political class that appears oblivious to middle America's existential concerns triggered the political earthquake that has given us Donald Trump as the GOP nominee. The result has been chaotic, confused, and convulsive. Trump has been the Frank Sinatra candidate (I can hear him singing, "I did it my way") fearlessly (foolishly?) telling other Republicans he doesn't need them, while large numbers of Republicans are abandoning the Trump-Pence ticket.
The upheavals within the Republican Party are so widespread that the party is fragmented and disjointed. Every single faction within the party has members who will neither endorse, support, or even vote for the GOP presidential slate this November. Ted Cruz represents the tea party Republicans whose conscience won't let them accept Trump. Mitt Romney, the quintessential establishment Republican has publicly broken with Trump. John Kasich, representing the more moderate wing of the party, won't endorse Trump either. Over the last week, multiple Republicans have announced that they won't vote for Trump.
I understand many of the reasons that individual Republicans have for rejecting Trump. While I'm fine with blunt talk and the shooting down of politically correct shibboleths, Trump goes too far for my taste. I find his gratuitous nastiness repellent, his oft-times vile and chronic intemperate temperamentalism obnoxious and downright worrisome, and his superficial grasp of issues disturbing.
As a boy, my aunt told me that sometimes, when you vote, you have to choose between the lesser of two evils -- two very imperfect candidates. In that context, I am stunned that prominent Republicans declare they favor Hillary Clinton in this race. Billionaire Meg Whitman went so far as to announce that she will raise money and vote for Clinton. While I understand her deep misgivings aggrieved sense of decency about Trump, I can't see how she can regard Hillary Clinton as the lesser evil. Whitman dismisses Trump as a "demagogue," but what else can you call Clinton, who wants to run a government that will fix everyone's economic problems by micro-managing the economy from Washington?" For Whitman to dump Trump for Clinton on the basis of his demagoguery is to jump out of the proverbial frying pan into the fire.
Furthermore, while Trump often is sloppy about facts, Clinton has shown herself to be a deliberate, cold-blooded liar. She is also an unconvicted felon, based on her misdeeds at the State Department, so for 50 Republican national security advisers to declare that Trump "would put at risk our country's national security and well-being" while ignoring Clinton's demonstrated recklessness (i.e., emails) and malfeasance (e.g., covert support for the Muslim Brotherhood) is more than a little strange.
And don't forget that Clinton runs a ruthless and powerful political machine financed at least in part through the slush fund known as the Clinton Foundation. Finally, there is the hard truth, stated by Trump himself, why conservatives may end up holding their noses and voting for him: the promise of conservative Supreme Court nominees. As problematical, disappointing, and disorienting as Trump's candidacy is for many Republicans and conservatives, the prospect of Hillary Clinton becoming president may cause many of them to cast their vote for Trump when the moment of truth arrives.
Regardless of how the election turns out, the Republican Party will have to reconstruct itself after November. If Trump overcomes the negative polls and wins, it will be interesting to see how many citizens who have said that Trump is the first candidate they will bother to vote for and how many cross-over Democrats and Independents will stay in the GOP and alter its character. If Trump loses, then who will be the leaders who gather up the shards of the Republican Humpty-Dumpty and put the GOP back together again? The real political excitement will begin in January, 2017 -- both in terms of public policy and the reconstruction of the Republican Party. The election is only the prelude.
I'll close with something else my aunt told me: "The darkest hour precedes the dawn." Don't give up hope, friends. It may get darker before the light comes, but the light will indeed come again.
Mark Hendrickson is Fellow for Economic and Social Policy with the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.
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