The New Year has arrived and presidential politics is in a fractured state as fissures between the GOP establishment elite and a vocal revolutionary hungry far-right base widen with each perceived slight by the other. Despite the influence of deep-pocketed coffers like the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Anderson, Paul Singer, and Harold Simmons, the establishment no longer controls the GOP narrative as political outsiders Trump, Cruz, and Carson have reframed the GOP party around moral absolutes and a bigoted, white-preference policy platform that does nothing to appeal to moderate and independent voters. The 2016 campaign cycle is witnessing a historical change as the louder big-money donors shout for a say in campaign strategy the less control they retain. It’s unheard of. But what does this mean for the rest of the country? Are we experiencing a GOP resurrection? Will progressive liberalism experience a backlash similar to the one following Ronald Reagans’ push for social conservatism?
Violent rhetoric, clashes with protesters, and thuggish behavior dominates the GOP field. If you were to turn on the TV to any news channel you would think that 2016 is the year that U.S. politics is about to be swept by the far-right on the backs of gun-toting white supremacists and nativism. Yes, attacks on protesters at rallies without political condemnation are becoming increasingly regular. And yes, when a Muslim woman is escorted from a rally in peaceful assembly to combat racial and religious stereotypes we cringe at the slurs thrown at her and question why the people hurling the insults are not similarly escorted out.
Ever since Trump’s rise and consistent 6-month lead at the top of the primary polls the press has been wary to challenge Trump and his supporters. Too much coverage concentrates on his celebrity-like status instead of calling him out for his disgusting behavior and discredited statements. Perhaps, like many of us, they are still in shock that Trump leads in the polls. Here is a man everyone expected to fall from conservative darling to disgraced bully within a matter of months. The base was supposed to see through his façade and remember that he once was a Hillary Clinton supporter. Now in growing circles, press and pollsters lament the possibility of a Trump presidency while far-right leaders hail him as evidence that conservatism has reemerged as the dominate policy preference of the average Joe.
By defying the odds Trump is being considered a serious contender. But a contender of what exactly? The GOP nomination – perhaps. The U.S presidency – most certainly not. It’s almost laughable to think that a man supported by white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups would ever appeal to the general population. His platform does not signify change nor has he put forth any policies that have actually been deemed good for the economy or foreign relations we have with friends and foes. Telling the world all he needs to do is snap his fingers and powerful leaders like Putin, Xi Jinping, and Kim Jong-un will fall in line is simply GOP base pandering. His platform is built on hate and the GOP base is lapping it up. They have become emboldened, embracing bigotry, hate, resentfulness, and clinging to a U.S. and world narrative that is a far cry from the truth.
When it comes to the general population the polls and data tell a different story. A recent 2015 Gallup poll indicated that American’s moral views have become increasingly liberal following the 2000 election of George W. Bush. This includes a majority now approving of gay and lesbian relations and sex before marriage. In fact the poll found that Americans’ moral views have shifted left in 14 out of the 16 total categories (exceptions: the death penalty and animals being used in scientific experiments). Similarly, the poll also found that as American views shift left there was a parallel loss in religious belief. What this poll suggests is that as Americans become more progressive they begin to abandon or leave behind certain tenants of and religions as a whole.
If this trend holds true, and I see no reason why it won’t for the time being, then the general population will continue to vote Democratic in the national election. The Democratic Party appeals to majorities of blacks, Hispanics, women, young adults, and the LGBT community because of its socially and racially inclusive and liberal economic policies. As the U.S. becomes more diverse the majorities of these groups will continue to flock to the Democratic Party because it represents the U.S. best. The GOP has stubbornly maintained its conservative, angry white man persona. The U.S. no longer looks like the country from the 80s and 90s, and their refusal to shift with the changing electorate will mean their downfall.
Peter Beinart does a wonderful job summarizing the shift America has made from moderate to liberal over the past two decades in his article Why America Is Moving Left. He points to the fact that strategists on both sides point to the fact the next nominee will need to win at least 30% of the Hispanic vote if he/she is to win the presidency. Romney only won 17% and his language wasn’t close to the racist and xenophobic comments being made by today’s candidate.
It doesn’t matter who wins the primary in the end. The current swath of GOP contenders has done too much damage to the party’s image when it comes to minorities and women. They have already lost. If Trump wins then the GOP will most likely split and undergo a brokered convention. If Cruz or Carson somehow best Trump, it won’t take long before the general population turns its attention from the Trump reality show to find that Cruz is too ideologically rigid and extreme in his positions to stomach and that Carson knows diddly-squat about anything beyond his own rags-to-riches biography.
Until then the ratings-driven media will spin the doomsday scenarios with Trump as President and we will all watch in horror mixed with amusement as the GOP tries to reign in its own version of the crazy white Uncle.