The sudden collapse of Donald Trump’s rivals for the Republican nomination for president has people on the right cringing and folks on the left elated. Some have gone so far as to say it is the end of the Republican Party. In truth, it is a significant development in the final fracturing of the Reagan coalition of interests that formed the GOP for the last 40 years. However, this doesn’t represent the demise of the party quite so much as it does a rebalancing of the power among the factions. In other words, Mr. Trump’s Republican Party may feel different, but in truth, the accent is merely being placed on different syllables.
The Reagan coalition, of course, was formed from by four distinct groups: corporate welfare queens, imperialists, small government conservatives, and social reactionaries. For most of the Reagan years, the Republican Party paid lip service to the interests of the latter pair while implementing policy that served the desires of the former couple. The US was more than happy to send troops into the Middle East and to bail out banks because the government responded to the demands of those who wanted those policies enacted. Meanwhile, government is bigger than ever, and social conservatives have seen a retreat from their values.
With the economy failing to boom, and with America’s leadership lost somewhere in the deserts of Iraq, the small government types and social reactionaries gained the upper hand via the Tea Party movement. The inability of the “establishment”; pair to work with the Tea Party pair of the GOP is in large part responsible for the Washington gridlock of the last several years.
The Trump candidacy succeeded because it became the vehicle for the disgruntled pair of factions. It is interesting to note that the last serious challenge to Mr. Trump was Ted Cruz, a clear social reactionary. The base of the GOP had little interest in handing out more corporate welfare to fighting another war for oil. He was selling what they wanted to hear, namely that they had been sold out by their coalition partners, that the failures of the country were not theirs, and that by ignoring the political professionals, America could be great again.
Mr. Trump, however, is not really a social reactionary nor is he a small government libertarian. One believes that he doesn’t have any core beliefs except his own ego. He has been on both sides of so very many issues that such a statement is fact. He has merely said what he believed would get him the votes he needed for his ego trip.
The next six months will be a very ugly period in American politics not only because Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton will have a nasty campaign against one another but also because the factions of the GOP are going to be grappling with one another for dominance.
The future of the Republican Party is in the hands of Donald Trump but not in the way many people believe. He is short on organization, and he’s going to need to build one quickly. That means relying on the people who are already engaged in party politics. The only phenomenon that remotely resembles this is a land rush. A new frontier is opening up, and it’s a race to be first in. Will Mr. Trump appoint social conservatives to party and campaign positions? Or will be pick small government conservatives? Or will he let the businessmen and militarists keep control?
The stink of failure will wind up all over those who are engaged in the Trump campaign if, as this journal expects, Mr. Trump loses in November and if the Democrats pick up control of the Senate (and maybe even the House). Not being in charge of a sinking ship is going to be key to who puts the party back together next year.. But it will be put together. It’s too valuable not to repair. Building brand new party would take too much effort.