Will the Republican Party survive?
Will the GOP be able to re-attract the Never Trumpers it has lost and win over the millennials it never had? Will it survive being out of step with the great issues of the day? History will tell.
Will the Republican Party survive Republican lawmakers abandoning their keystone principles of free trade and cutting federal debt and deficit spending? Will it survive opposing, or appearing to oppose, millennials’ cherished issues of climate change, income inequality and racial and social justice? Will it survive Donald J. Trump?
In the 1950s, President Dwight D. Eisenhower not only believed but adhered to Republican core values of limited government, balanced budgets, a robust foreign policy, a strong military (governed by elected civilian leaders), resisting Communist Russia’s expansionism, sharing power with states, American exceptionalism, judges restrained by the Constitution and free markets. Most Americans agreed with him.
A generation later, the rise of the Tea Party grew out of frustration with federal Republican officeholders who failed to stop the growth of the federal budget and deficit financing and the inexorable encroachment of the federal government into almost every facet of society. While much of that intrusion was driven by federal judges who seemed to see the need for a sweeping federal solution for every perceived wrong, Republican officials since President Ronald Reagan have done little to trim the U.S. government’s thirst for power and money.
One can track the rise of Donald Trump to the same simmering dissatisfaction that fueled the advent of the Tea Party. In 2016, even rock-ribbed Republican voters joined their Tea Party fellows and independent blue collar males in a crazy-quilt coalition to elect President Trump. Tired of lip service from Republicans in Washington, D.C., they stunningly embraced the light-on-policy-but-heavy-on-visceral-detestation-of-progressives Trump. One by one, Republican heavyweights have either embraced or been cudgeled to fall in line behind President Trump.
His first term easily placing among the top five most policy incoherent presidential terms in history, Mr. Trump now asks us for a second. His record is a chain of fired or resigned aides and officials, Watergate-style prosecution of his former associates and then firing the prosecutors, a government run by acting secretaries, outright war on the press, an isolationist foreign policy, tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations but no meaningful tax cuts for the middle class, a tardy and bungled initial response to COVID-19 and now pure denial of the pandemic’s devastating power and reach, first-strike imposition of broad tariffs, even against friendly and strategic trading partners, cozying up to dictators, and deficit spending like an entire shipful of drunken sailors. By the savvy wielding of his powerful Tweets, he has hectored congressional Republicans and the institutional Republican Party into a fearful compliance with his self-indulgent wishes. Trump has become the Republican Party.
History will show that Republicans’ gravest political mistake was alienating a whole generation of young people, who are woke and motivated. (We’ll see to what extent they actually vote.) They are especially concerned about climate change, income inequality and racial and social equity.
They are horrified by Trump’s unconcern for the environment and climate change — which, to them, poses an existential threat to mankind. They are outraged over his complete insensitivity and dismissal of race and social justice issues. To them, President Trump enables white supremacists and is deaf to institutionalized racial oppression and discrimination, most dramatically demonstrated in the last few years in the train of blacks who have been tragically slain by police. Congressional Republicans are scrambling to bring forward meaningful legislation to limit the violent effects of racially-based policing, but the shadow of Trump’s perceived intransigence on this issue overshadows any Republican effort, however sincere.
Even if Trump should win a second term over another unimpressive Democratic nominee, the young will remember that Donald Trump and his Republican allies denied climate change and fought measures to address it, they refused to address income equality but instead gave generous tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy, and worst of all, they were AWOL — or, at best, lukewarm — in calling out and righting racial injustice as the great wrong of our day.
The Republican Party under Trump has rejected in practice almost all of its political principles which have prevailed since Eisenhower. Will the Grand Old Party survive Trump? Will it be able to re-attract the Never Trumpers it has lost and win over the millennials it never had? Will it survive being out of step with the great issues of the day? History will tell.
Greg Bell is the former lieutenant governor of Utah and the current president and CEO of the Utah Hospital Association.