Donald Trump’s candidacy is widely seen as a calamity for the modern Republican Party. In anticipation, the Republican establishment is making two big bets – that not only will Trump lose the race for the White House, but his loss will restore the establishment wing of the Republican Party.
The Republican Party received two comprehensive drubbings in the 2006 and 2008 elections, largely due to the unpopularity of incumbent President George W Bush.
In 2010 and 2014, the Democratic Party discovered just how much an unpopular president can be a drag on the ticket.
In 2010, the Republicans pounced after sensing a rather obvious weakness in President Barack Obama and the Democrat agenda with regard to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
They were wildly successful, taking over 60 seats from the Democrats after mercilessly ginning up their base with confected stories of federal government over-reach and promising a return to a freer time in American history.
Their triumph, however, came with an equally large headache when it became apparent that a significant number of these new Republican representatives weren’t prepared to acquiesce to the Republican establishment. In addition, these candidates had largely won over nominees backed by the Republican Party.
Emboldened, these Tea Party-affiliated Republicans refused to participate in the normal processes of government.
Taking their election as a mandate to enact a radical anti-government manifesto, they rejected compromise and divided the conservative movement.
These divisions manifested themselves in the government shutdowns, the sequestration, the credit downgrading, and a hundred other missteps that hindered the establishment Republican ability to enact its agenda.
In desperation, the then-Speaker of the house, John Boehner, was forced to bargain with the Democrats in order to keep the federal government functioning. These Faustian bargains were successful, but came at a huge cost to Boehner, ousted as Speaker in 2015, and the establishment.
The 2014 election saw much less turnover, and, with a few notable exceptions, the majority of establishment candidates survived challenges from these radical contenders.
The lack of change prompted a sigh of relief from the establishment, only to be short-lived with the spectacular flameout of all establishment candidates early in the 2016 Republican primaries.
The inability of the Republican establishment to control its rebellious radical wing encouraged the neo-radical movement. These neo-radicals were aggressively individualist, anti-establishment, and anti-convention.
It was these rebels without a clue who powered Donald Trump to victory in the Republican primaries. Trump, a neo-radical if ever there was one, is their natural candidate.
The Republican establishment’s uneasy and often-times one-sided embrace of Trump is a peculiar thing to watch.
While continually expressing their disappointment or shock with his conduct, few serving Republicans have publicly rescinded their support of Trump.
Others have said that they will not endorse him, but have committed to voting for him in November, as if voting for someone is now not the ultimate endorsement.
Wryly observing the Republican ‘shock’ at Trump’s comments, President Obama asked: “How could you be shocked? This was the guy… who was sure I was born in Kenya … As long as it was being directed at me they were fine with it. They thought it was a hoot, and suddenly they’re shocked.”
The tepid support Trump receives from the establishment is clear positioning for a complete break on November 9.
A Trump loss will allow the establishment to aggressively reassert its control over the governing organs of the Republican Party.
It is difficult to see any of Trump’s establishment champions retaining their position.
Trump’s ascension to Republican nominee sent a powerful message to the Republican establishment. His loss will send a vastly more powerful message straight back: “Don’t bet against the house.”
DISCLAIMER: These opinions are that of the author, not those of Flinders University or other affiliated institutions.
Jesse Barker Gale is a PhD candidate in American Studies at Flinders University’s School of History and International Relations. Barker Gale has a strong academic and practical background in both the American domestic and foreign policy fields. He is currently continuing with his research on US politics and international relations in the office of US Congressman Jim McDermott in Washington State as an Australian Government Endeavour Postgraduate Scholar 2016. He is also a Visiting Scholar at Georgetown University during the scholarship year.
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