Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.
Monday, May 09, 2016
What Is A Political Party and How Do You Take One Back?
It goes without saying I've been doing a lot of tooth gnashing since Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee last Tuesday, but I figured that there were enough posts out there venting high octane anger and disgust without adding my own piece to that genre. I won't be voting for Donald Trump in November. I think that Hillary Clinton would make an absolutely terrible president, but I still think she'd be less bad that Donald Trump is likely to be, so I'm not particularly worried about the possibility that my failure to vote for Trump would contribute to a Hillary victory. That said, I won't be voting for her either. I'll either cast my presidential vote for a third party candidate or leave the top of my ballot blank and only vote in the other races.
I'm hardly the only conservative disgusted with the Republican nominee. I've seen a number of friends announce that they are changing their party registration from Republican to unaffiliated. Others have talked about the need to find or start a third party for conservatives to support, providing a way to register their opposition to Trump and a new political home if the GOP turns into the party of Trump. On the other hand, there are those who, however much they dislike Trump, dislike Hillary more, and so are determined to rally to the GOP banner no matter who is holding it, and also those who argue that it's only those who show their loyalty to the party by getting in line behind the nominee who will have a voice in rebuilding the party when the Trump phenomenon finally burns itself out.
All this has left me thinking a fair amount about what a political party is, and thus what it means to try to teach it a lesson or win back control over it.
This isn't as simple as it might seem, because a political party is several different things, all of them mutable in different ways.
First off, a political party consists of the elected officials who were elected under that party's banner and the candidates who are nominated by the party. In that sense, Trump is now one of the leaders of the Republican party. Another way of talking about a political party is its "establishment", which includes not just elected officials but party staffers, activists, donors and other people involved on a volunteer or professional basis in a party's workings. Finally, a party consists of voters who are registered with the party and/or vote for its candidates most of the time. Of those voters, only a minority even cast ballots in the recent primaries. And of those ballots cast, roughly 11 million were for Trump while roughly 15 million were for other candidates.
Trump is clearly neither a social conservative nor a small government/constitutional conservative. His nomination represents a victory of other ideas (celebrity, anti-immigration, isolationism, tariffs, anti-PC, machismo) over a more traditional conservative set of political position.
The variable here is the voters. Voters may vote or not vote, they may support the Republican party or another one. Trump has both gathered the support of a number of Republicans who have supported various other Republican candidates during recent election cycles, and also brought in the support of independents and Democrats who find his personality and political positions appealing. Other candidates draw other sets of voters. Perhaps one of the difficulties this year is that there were a number of presidential aspirants who attracted some portion of the usual GOP set of primary voters, but it was only Trump who cornered a particularly enthusiastic portion of the base along with a faction of outsiders who do not normally vote for Republicans (or if they do, do so only with frustration and disgust.) The result is the Trump coalition of voters.
What remains to be seen is: has the Trump coalition chosen a candidate capable of attracting a winning percentage of voters in the general election?
If Trump wins, and particularly if he wins convincingly, that will begin a shift in the party in which people with views similar to Trump begin to take over the slots in the first two groups, the elected officials and the functionaries, while relying for their success on voters who like Trumpian candidates. Voters, officials and functionaries who find their views incompatible with Trump would go elsewhere -- to the Democrats, to some third party, or to the political no man's land of views not fitting into any of the parties. This would be fairly similar to the process whereby liberal Republicans vanished or became Democrats over the last forty years, and the opposite process through which conservative Democrats became Republicans.
There's been a lot of talk in the recent primary about the "Republican Establishment", with Trump and to an extent Cruz running against it, while others have plaintively asked why the Establishment has sat on its hands while Trump ran away with the nomination. There is a party establishment (its officials and functionaries) and it is at fault during this last election cycle for wasting a lot of resources on the hopeless Jeb Bush bid for the nomination and for ignoring Trump until it was too late to do anything about his insurgent candidacy. However, the establishment's power is determined by who shows up and votes.
There are two opposing dynamics a play for conservatives wanting to regain and rebuild the Republican Party. On the one hand, victory tends to cement the power of the winners within a party. It builds the loyalty of the voters who supported the victory, gives positions of power to elected officials and functionaries within the party, and it pushes away voters who dislike the people elected.
On the other hand, a party's power structure is determined by the people who show up, make donations, and cast votes. If only Trump supporters are showing up to during the next couple election cycles, while conservatives sit out, waiting for candidates they like better to be put forward, the party will end up looking more like Trump, not less, because it will be formed by the people who are active in it.
To regain control of the party, the difficult needle which conservatives will need to thread is to make sure that Trump loses, and that others like him fail to gain nominations for other offices, while at the same time remaining active in the party in order to further their own candidates and causes. If Trumpism is mostly driven by its celebrity banner-holder, then defeat should send his hard core of supporters off to wherever they came from. If there's a deep desire for his kind of politics among the Republican base, then a more protected power struggle is likely to ensue.
Either way, the method by which conservatives can wrest control of the party back from Trump and his followers is by showing that more people turn out and vote for conservative candidates than for candidates like Trump.
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