By Jon Lueth; Companion Piece
The 2016 Presidential election season was easily one of the most controversial in my lifetime. Both parties found themselves in scenarios they would never have dreamed possible. To the joy of many Republicans, Bernie Sanders, the relatively unknown “Democratic Socialist” Jewish Senator of Vermont, briefly appeared to pose a serious challenge to Hillary Clinton, the virtually hand-picked successor of Democratic President Barack Obama, as he kept the race close in both polls and early caucuses and primaries. However, all was not well on the Republican side of aisle.
traction and a plurality of votes on his way to the GOP nomination. The Washington Center Panelist Ruy Teixeira from The Century Foundation perfectly described the scenario when he stated that Trump essentially staged a hostile take over of the Republican party, a sentiment reinforced by the slew of Republicans who spoke out, and/or actively worked to ensure that Trump was not named the nominee.
Ultimately though, those Republicans failed and Trump became not only our party’s nominee, but he successfully defeated Hillary Clinton and is now our President-elect, to be inaugurated in approximately 10 days. Beyond that, we managed to hold a majority in both the Senate and the House, as well as sweeping through the states and either holding or capturing a variety of state legislatures and governorships.
Given all of this it appears life is pretty good for the party. We have power like we’ve never had in my lifetime and, in theory, are uniquely posed to finally achieve a variety of our platform goals. Alas, this is only possible in theory. The party is undeniably fractured. Marquette University Professor Dr. Julia Azari emphasized the fact that both parties are coalitions, and weak ones at that. Our coalition has factions forming within that are in stark contrast to each other, sometimes appearing to only have a commonality in their identification of the Democratic party as the enemy. The Tea Party has a vastly different agenda than the moderates or “establishment” members of the party, and are even more different than the libertarian wing of the party. For the first time in decades all of the mainstream, “establishment” candidates were rejected by voters (although this could be attributed to the aforementioned plurality effect) and we were handed a nominee, now President-elect, that a majority of the party base isn’t willing to completely get behind. Ruy Teixeira and John Hudak described the two-fold issue this presents. They pointed out the fact that President-elect Trump won both the nomination and the general DESPITE the party, not because of the party. There were a variety of Congressmembers we reelected who spent months railing against Trump, and now they must find a way to work with him. It’s unclear if either side is capable of putting the past behind them and doing this. If Congress and President Trump can’t work together, despite being of the “same party,” it shows the fragile situation we find ourselves in.
I can’t help but think back to the 1994 Republican Revolution and Richard Fenno’s account of being asked the question “Did we win, or did they lose?” This is the question I’m asking myself now, and unfortunately I think they (the Democrats) lost. Suddenly, our every move matters and will have incredible ripple effects down the road for our party and our ability to win elections. Is the Republican party doomed to collapse if we mess this up? No I don’t think so, but we are certainly going to have to make some major decisions for ourselves. Do we shift to the middle in an attempt to reach out to voters who are less socially conservative who haven’t been a part of our coalition yet? Or do we double down on Trump’s methods and attempt to fully secure the new voters he brought in? Is there a way to do both? I doubt it, but hey, people have predicted the fall of our party for years and we’ve found a way to persevere. We have problems, and I don’t think there is anyone who would deny that, but as much as people want it to be, I don’t think its all over for us. In the end, time will tell if the naysayers are correct, or if we’ll adapt and survive.