As Election Day approaches, many Republicans are still weighing their options for president. During the past few months, the civil war within the Republican Party has escalated. In the wake of recent scandals, several prominent Republicans rescinded their endorsements of Donald Trump. Trump and his supporters have responded in kind by attacking establishment Republicans, most notably Paul Ryan. Trying to keep a deeply divided party together, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has threated to punish Republicans who refuse to support Donald Trump.
By November 9th, both camps will have developed self-serving narratives to explain the outcome of the election. If Mr. Trump wins, his supporters will celebrate a realignment of the party and the destruction of an ineffective status quo. If he loses, the establishment will likely try to discredit his proposals and purge his supporters from the ranks of party leadership. His supporters will doubtlessly blame the loss on his Republican critics. Either scenario would be a disaster, and a failure to reconcile following the election could amount to political suicide.
Looking beyond 2016, both camps should remember three significant points:
1. Trump supporters raise legitimate issues.
Many in the political class are quick to label Trump supporters as bigots. Hillary Clinton infamously ascribed half of his support to racial prejudice, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. Doing so betrays both a tremendous arrogance and a profound ignorance of the country’s problems.
Globalization, immigration, economic change, and a variety of other macro level forces have displaced millions of Americans. These individuals are deeply dissatisfied with the current political and economic regimes and are doing their best to live through an uncertain and unstable time. Many of these Americans are Trump supporters. Moving forward, the party cannot afford to ignore these voters. In the next decade, the GOP should be prepared to offer meaningful policy proposals to address their concerns.
2. The Republican Party is a big tent.
Historically, the Republican Party has been a big tent, welcoming a variety of diverse ideological interests. The party has survived a number of bitterly contested conventions and internal struggles. Leadership must recognize that its members can reasonably disagree on ideas and even candidates. Simply put, Republicans can in good faith support Donald Trump. Republicans can also in good faith decline to support him.
3. Ideas matter more than a single man.
At the end of the day, the Republican Party has always been the party of ideas. Since World War II, the party’s conservative fusionism has been remarkably adept at absorbing disparate and at times contradictory movements. These ideas matter far more than any one individual member or candidate. Despite the serious divisions between Trump’s supporters and critics within the party, there is still much in common between the two groups. Among other issues, both sides remain committed to the reduction of government regulation, decreased taxes, and the appointment of conservative judges. Perhaps most importantly, both sides remain opposed to the statism and identity politics of the left. Moving forward, focusing on points of commonality will make the party stronger.
The warring factions within Republican Party would be wise to consider a temporary truce this election cycle. Although many are rightfully focused on November, they should not lose sight of the years beyond 2016. The future of the party may very well depend on it.