Life after Trump: Can the Republican Party Recover?

By Crilly, Rob | New Statesman (1996), November 4, 2016 | Go to article overview

Life after Trump: Can the Republican Party Recover?


Crilly, Rob, New Statesman (1996)


First comes the throaty rumble of motorcycle exhausts as dozens of "Bikers for Trump" thunder past the sports arena on their Harley-Davidsons. Then come the chants: "Lock her up! Lock her up!" Finally, the protesters march into view, including a man in a furry pig suit, holding a placard that reads "Trump is a sexist pig".

The sights and sounds of a Donald Trump rally are like nothing before seen or heard in a US election.

On a grey day in October, the queue stretches in four directions around the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. In more ordinary times, it hosts ice hockey games and wrestling matches. This is Trump country, on the edge of the Rust Belt, where blue-collar workers are still living in straitened times.

"Look at the people here," says Dale Painter, a beautician wearing a cowboy hat that is decorated with the Stars and Stripes. "There are all ages and lots of women. Do you think these people were going to rallies last time?"

This is the main success of the Trump movement. For his supporters, the campaign's existence is proof that the Republican brand can still attract new supporters. Not that many in the party leadership or among the long-standing conservative faithful view this as success. As election day approaches, they are contemplating defeat. Preparations are being made for a GOP civil war and the chance to return their movement to its founding principles.

Matt K Lewis, whose book Too Dumb to Fail charts how the party of Ronald Reagan became the party of Donald Trump, reflects on the schism between the nationalistic, anti-intellectual newcomers and the more mainstream establishment. Defeat for Trump doesn't solve the problem, he believes. "If anyone thinks just getting rid of Donald Trump means it goes back to Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio, then they're wrong," Lewis says. "He's just a symptom--or an exploiter--of problems that are deeply ingrained and pre-dated him."

Although Trump may have built on the remnants of the grass-roots conservative Tea Party movement to secure the Republican nomination, opinion polls suggest that his strategy offers no path to the 270 electoral college votes needed to win the election.

Trump's Republican critics argue that his protectionist, nativist agenda--characterising Syrian refugees as potential terrorists, demonising Mexicans as rapists--was failing to attract wavering voters even before a dozen women came forward to accuse him of unwanted sexual advances and worse.

The schism was laid bare when Trump's vulgar style failed to win the backing of the Bush family and other Republican grandees. Fifty of the party's national security experts have accused him of posing a threat to the country.

New revelations of an FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton's private email server have given Trump some eleventh-hour impetus, but privately many Republicans are already talking of defeat. There is also discussion of creating a new conservative party. …

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