Final Election Post-Mortems: A Trump Victory Does Not Fix the Republican Party

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Political commentators, pundits and much of the national news media was prepared to declare the death of the Republican Party. As soon as Donald Trump officially lost on November 8th, the Republican Party as previously constituted would cease to exist. Some had prematurely pronounced this demise. Except Donald Trump won the election. Perhaps a Republican Party which had been ailing long before Trump’s nomination had in fact been saved by Trump’s victory. Despite the criticism which followed Trump throughout his campaign, regarding his rhetoric, his actions, his strategy, his temperament, his lack of experience, Donald Trump won and did so by galvanizing the American public. All of those aspects criticized seemingly worked to his advantage and worked out in his favor.

He won. Perhaps Donald Trump is the way forward. Donald Trump is the immediate present of the Republican Party, maybe he can be the long-term solution as well. But many of the fissures within the GOP which were highlighted during the presidential campaign have not simply gone away now that Trump has won. There still needs to be healing within the GOP. Conciliation from Donald Trump and from his detractors within his party remains necessary, or else four years time will simply exacerbate those cracks. Via Fortune:

“Along with many other political scientists and prognosticators, results have proven me wrong several times in this electoral cycle. But political scientist Stephen Skowronek’s theory of the presidency suggests that presidential leadership goes in cycles. Several signs indicate that, in spite of impressive victories last week, Republicans could be on the verge of being a repudiated political minority for the next generation. Trump might join presidents like Jimmy Carter and Herbert Hoover, “disjunctive” presidents who sometimes win promising electoral victories, but soon break a cycle in which their party was dominant.

“Several commentators are writing that Trump has redefined politics, reversing traditional Republican policies and flipping many of the districts that President Obama won. But in several ways, he fits the pattern of disjunctive presidents at the end of the generation of one party’s dominance. One sign of desperation is appealing so forcefully outside of a party’s base, indicating strategic savvy for minority parties but weakness for a party that is supposedly dominant. Dwindling support for Ronald Reagan’s traditional agenda forced Republicans to make new accommodations, for example. Another sign of desperation is nominating a candidate with tenuous connections to a party. Like Trump, other disjunctive presidents spent much of their career unaffiliated with the party that nominated them (think John Quincy Adams and Hoover). A robust Reagan regime would have nominated someone more obviously committed to its party inheritance.

“A final sign of desperation is focus on technique over substantive reform, since efficiency is one of the few platforms everyone can agree on. Disjunctive presidents accept what policies are already in place but promise to run them better. While some of Trump’s promises are too odd to classify, much of his campaign boiled down to “I can do it better than you.” Trump claims to support free trade, but negotiate better trade deals than his predecessors. Although opposed to Obamacare, he insisted on an unspecified form of universal health care coverage during the primary debates. Where Hoover and Carter relied on their engineering expertise, Trump advertises his business background.

“Disjunctive presidents pave the way for “reconstructive” presidents like Franklin Roosevelt and Reagan, whose parties enjoyed a long period of dominance. Time and Newsweek have compared Obama to Roosevelt and Reagan, but like Wilson, Obama turned out to be a Democrat in Republican times. For both Obama and Wilson, many of their supporters went back to their usual ways in the next election cycle. Where reconstructive presidents permanently augment their parties, opposition presidents only temporarily win over unreliable constituencies. Trump flipped districts that Obama won in Wisconsin, but many of those same districts had voted for Bush in 2004. Democrats have controlled Congress and the White House more often than they did before Wilson, but firm conservative opposition keeps bouncing back, even after being blamed for the Great Recession.

“Disjunctive presidents like Hoover and Carter started off with impressive victories. While Carter’s election was close, Hoover won 40 states and 58% of the vote. Both won overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress. Yet, both parties soon lost control not only over the levers of government for the better part of a generation, but the dominant political discourse…Even before hard times confronted the country, these presidents were caught between a party establishment that insisted on its traditional agenda and changing times that called for innovation…Disjunctive presidents wrestle with how to honor old party commitments in changing times, aggravating party cleavages to a point of collapse and rewarding the next nominee from another party.

“Maybe Trump will be different than earlier disjunctive presidents. After all, he already bypassed party elites with media appeals to an army of unorganized voters that nominated him over establishment figures. While Trump’s recruitment of working class whites was impressive, he will have a difficult time keeping such voters happy while also maintaining the party base most presidents need.”

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