In President Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention this past summer, he summarized the trajectory of the election and the Republican National Convention in the following way: “Look, we Democrats have always had plenty of differences with the Republican Party, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s precisely this contest of idea that pushes our country forward. But what we heard in Cleveland last week wasn’t particularly Republican—and it sure wasn’t conservative. What we heard was a deeply pessimistic vision of a country where we turn against each other, and turn away from the rest of the world. There were no serious solutions to pressing problems—just the fanning of resentment, and blame, and anger, and hate.”
What President Obama described was the fragmentation of the Republican Party, facilitated by Donald Trump. Trump has infused his campaign with words of racism, xenophobia, sexism and pessimism, causing many significant members of the Republican Party to distance themselves from him by either refusing to endorse him or withdrawing previous endorsements. His words did not represent a two-party system in which the Democrats and Republicans simply take differing approaches to governing; rather, Trump depicts a divisive and petty government filled with an excess of fear and a lack of policy-making. However, Trump’s rapid rise to the nomination was somewhat troubling, not only because he campaigned on a platform of “resentment, blame and anger,” but because so many American voters were responsive to his radicalism in a way that extended far beyond the most conservative of Republican ideals. A leader is nothing without his followers, and Trump is no exception, whether these followers be voters who are swayed by his rhetoric, or Republican officials whose rejection and critique seemed to trickle in only once it was too late.
On the surface, it may seem like the crisis Republicans face is rooted in the fact that the candidate representing them has, arguably, made a mockery of them all. However, Trump’s probable defeat in November will not necessarily leave the Republicans with a completely intact political party.
A closer look would suggest that these fragments have been apparent for several years. Exactly where they began is unclear. Perhaps it was the Republican-controlled Congress that spent many years fighting with President Obama. Perhaps it was the fact that in the early stages of the election, the sixteen potential Republican nominees for President spent more time pointing fingers at each other and criticizing President Obama rather than discussing any actual policy. The Republican presidential debate stage quickly turned into a fighting arena, with accusatory words and pointed fingers substituting for knives and spears. While it is true that Donald Trump emerged as the champion of this not-so-glorious battle, perhaps his candidacy merely elucidated his party’s crisis rather than created it. Perhaps the ground was already cracking under the Republicans’ feet and Donald Trump merely stamped his feet one too many times and increased the damage. A different nominee would have certainly led a less tumultuous campaign, and arguably could have surpassed Hillary Clinton in the polls at this very moment. Regardless, it takes more than a nominee who is more capable and well-spoken than Trump to fix the cracks in the ground.
This is not to say that the ideals and principles at the core of the Republican Party themselves are corrupt or damaging to our country. Since the founding of our nation, we have operated based on a system of government with checks and balances, not only among the three branches of government, but within them as well. The United States would look very different today had the Republican Party not been there to balance out the Democratic Party, and vice versa. As President Obama expressed, the differences between the two parties have, for centuries, kept our country moving forward. But what the Republican Party has turned into, and what Trump has capitalized on, is not bipartisanship; it is a two-party system that involves petty fighting and pointing fingers, and feels like it may slow us down rather than move our country forward.
Thus, regardless of the outcome of this election, the cracks in the foundation of the Republican Party will still be visible. The discontent with Donald Trump has only deepened the divisions and made them more apparent. Now the question remains: what will become of the Republican Party? What is their next step?
There are, of course, several options. Congress can continue to filibuster, point fingers and shut itself down whenever things don’t go as planned. The Republicans can come back in four years and continue to point fingers at each other, this time about who withdrew support from Donald Trump first. But Trump can only be the scapegoat for so long. What the Republican Party needs is a reaffirmation of its core values. These values must balance both their principles as well as an openness to change and minority rights, just as the Democratic Party must find a way to balance liberalism with the original ethics and ideals of the Constitution. The party has to remind the people that being conservative is possible without isolating women, Muslims, immigrants and other minorities. We need to reinstate the values of a two-party system that was so unique over 200 years ago and has served as an example for the rest of the world ever since. Regardless of who our next President is, Congress must find a way to look past the Democrat-Republican divides to move forward and formulate policy.