Ronald Reagan built it.
Whatever my opinion might be of the 40th President (and don’t get me started), his reconstruction of the Republican Party in the aftermath of Watergate into the “big tent”, reversing the party’s free-fall was masterful. “He who agrees with me 80% of the time is not my enemy.”, Reagan is often quoted as having said. What Reagan created was a platform that appealed to some of the most unlikely bedfellows, bringing libertarians into the same fold as social conservatives and evangelical Christians, big-money bankers to the table with family farmers, young aspiring business people together with factory workers. Just six years after many were predicting the death of the Party of Lincoln, Reagan carried all but six states and the District of Columbia in an electoral and popular landslide which also handed control of the Senate to the Republicans for the first time since 1955. This was outdone only by the following election where he won every state except for Minnesota (and DC) a plurality of almost seventeen million popular votes, and an electoral sweep of 525 to 13.
Suddenly it was the Democratic Party that appeared to be on life-support.
One of the tenants of the Reagan juggernaut that catapulted this unlikely grade-b movie actor into power was a simple principle often referred to as Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not speak badly of Republicans.” Party unity was placed above all else. Certainly there would be differences, but by agreeing to compromise and work together toward a set of common goals, Reagan and his handlers were able to accomplish what had seemed impossible only a few years earlier.
Fast forward to 2016. Among Republicans the “11th Commandment” appears as quaint as great-grandma’s dating rules from the 1930s. The party has fissured into multiple factions along establishment vs. doctrinal conservative lines with multiple sub-camps vying for dominance. Fueled by absolutest rhetoric from champions of the various factions, amplified by right-wing talk radio preaching the gospel of absolute conservatism to the party faithful and spread like a viral pathogen via the unrestrained free-for-all of social media, this division has destroyed any semblance of Reagan’s sacred party unity. The anger of the electorate, particularly those who more often identify as “right-of-center” in some way has made rational discussion of significant issues impossible with no room for compromise and no middle ground.
If there is a major earthquake in California this year, it will doubtlessly be the result of Ronald Reagan rolling in his grave.
Donald Trump is the inevitable result of this division. Devoid of any identifiable philosophy of governance and lacking any type of well developed moral compass, Trump has masterfully tapped into the anger and division within the party. Building on the fears and animus that have become the party identity for the last decade, Trump feeds upon this toxic stew. Like Reagan he has found a way to build a big tent, but the circus inside this tent is at war with itself.
There could not be more contrast between Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. One might have despised Reagan’s policies and politics but personally he was not unlikable. Something of a doddering grandfather figure, Reagan was calm, patient, and projected a demeanor of kindness and maturity. The rude, bloviating, boastful, insecure NYC real-estate tycoon turned reality TV icon is anything but likable. Reagan made people want to work together despite their differences, Trump builds his personal power by driving people apart. Having successfully labeled his opponents as losers, liars, weaklings, and cowards he has fanned the flames of the cauldron and bubbled to the top of this caustic brew. At this point he appears to be the likely nominee to take on the mantle of the GOP in November. Should this happen he will almost certainly fall to whichever candidate is nominated by the Democratic Party, a fact not lost on the Republican establishment which has come to the conclusion, likely too late, that the gamble they made in attempting to use Trump to divide the party’s right wing has backfired.
Currently in some oak paneled room in suburban Virginia filled with the smoke of Cuban cigars, the power brokers of the Party establishment are working out the details of how they might prevent this certain disaster from happening. National poling shows the only reliable candidate they have who stands a chance against either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders is Marco Rubio. The question is, how can they propel Rubio who has virtually no realistic path to the nomination into the end-zone. Unlike the Democrats, Republican “superdelegates” make up only about 7% of the total delegate count, and while Democratic superdelegates are free to vote for any candidate they wish, Republican superdelegates are required under a rule adopted by the party last year to vote for whomever receives the most votes in their state.
At least on the first ballot.
Probably the best chance the Republicans have of dropping Trump would be a brokered convention. Assuming that Trump goes to the convention with less than 51% of the 2,339 available delegates and the first ballot is indecisive all of the delegates would be released from their obligations, and through what could become a rancorous process where votes are traded a consensus candidate would emerge. Under this scenario the most likely winner would probably be Marco Rubio, but in this year of unprecedented crazy we can only expect the unexpected, and a lot can happen between now and July 18th.
No matter what happens, the Republican Party as we have come to know it will not exist after this election.
No matter what happens, the tent is coming down. In fact, it is already down, it’s just that nobody has bothered to tell the clowns.