Partisanship is the thing that may save us from Donald Trump.
Many staunch Republicans are refusing to support Trump because of his contempt for their conservative values. Many working-class Democrats share his populist views on trade and foreign policy -- but they will never support his crude bigotry and xenophobia.
This is the stage of the campaign where partisans are expected to fall in line. That seems to be happening with Democrats. Senator Bernie Sanders supporters are beginning to accept presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Sanders has not formally endorsed Clinton, but he said he will do everything he can to keep Trump from winning. There’s only one way to do that: Vote for Clinton.
Partisanship is supposed to be working in Trump’s favor, too. And it is, to some extent.
Party loyalists like House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin are slowly and reluctantly indicating their support for Trump. But a lot of establishment Republicans are horrified by Trump’s crude populism and refusing to fall in line.
That was particularly apparent when Trump laid down his marker in favor of economic populism last week in Pennsylvania. He promised to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, crack down on Chinese currency manipulation, kill the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal and rebuild domestic infrastructure. (He is a builder, after all.)
That kind of “big government” populism and protectionism are anathema to conservatives. “Donald Trump is running as an anti-Republican Republican,” an official at the National Retail Federation told the “Washington Post.”
Marc Racicot, a former Republican Party chairman, wrote, “I cannot support or endorse Trump for President” because he has not “offered any substantive or serious conservative policy proposals consistent with historical Republican Party platform positions.”
We’re about to see a showdown at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, later this month between the Trump movement and the Tea Party. Remember the Tea Party? They were hard-line, anti-government conservatives who took on the Republican Party establishment in 2010.
“What used to be the Tea Party is now the GOP,” says Theda Skocpol, who co-wrote a book about the Tea Party.
The Tea Party’s favorite candidate this year was Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, not Trump. Some conservatives are determined to resist Trump’s nomination at the convention. In last month’s NBC News-“Wall Street Journal” poll, a majority of conservative Republican voters said they would prefer that the party nominate someone other than Trump. That won’t happen. But conservatives are trying to change party rules so that they can regain control of the party in the future. Presumably after Trump loses in November.
Trump’s dream is to put together a populist coalition of working-class Democrats and Republicans against the political establishment. He even fantasizes about attracting Sanders supporters.
But the values that divide those voters left and right are more powerful than the anti-establishment resentment they share.
Trump has touted the “Brexit” vote in Britain last month as the model for what he is trying to do. He issued a statement saying British voters “have declared their independence from the European Union and have voted to reassert control over their own politics, border and economy. Come November, the American people will have the chance to re-declare their independence. . . . They will have the chance to reject today’s rule by the global elite.”
There is one big difference between the Brexit vote in Britain and a U.S. presidential election. The two major parties in the United Kingdom did not take a clear position on Brexit. The governing Conservative Party was divided, and the Labour Party’s opposition to Brexit was half-hearted. Party loyalty didn’t matter.
But it will matter in the United States. Especially because Clinton, an intensely partisan figure, will be the Democratic candidate.
There has been some speculation that Trump could “realign” American politics. Instead of liberals versus conservatives, we could have populists (like Trump) versus anti-Trump elitists (like Barack Obama and Mitt Romney).
That’s not likely. If Trump loses, Republicans will simply obliterate Trump from history. Tea Party conservatives will retake control of the Republican Party.
But what if Trump wins? When the populist Andrew Jackson became president in 1829, voters divided between Jacksonians and anti-Jacksonians. The Jacksonians became the Democratic Party and the anti-Jacksonians turned into the Whig Party. It’s not hard to imagine a Trump party and an anti-Trump party emerging in the wake of a Trump presidency.
But what would they stand for? Who knows? No one knows what Trump would do as president. Not even Trump, who said in January, “When I’m president, I’m a different person. I can be the most politically correct person you’ve ever seen.”
That’s exactly why conservatives don’t trust Trump. And why, if they fail to stop him in Cleveland, conservatives are determined to erase Trump from history.
About the Author
Bill Schneider is a professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. He is a visiting professor in the Communication Studies Department at the University of California – Los Angeles.
The views expressed in this article are not those of Reuters News.