I get asked a lot what I think is the future of the Republican Party. These days, with increasing conviction, I say that it doesn’t have one. You need not look beyond the Roy Moore allegations to understand why it’s better just to start from fresh.
Let’s begin with the premise that the Trump presidency and Trumpism more broadly have degenerated (if it was anything more substantial) into a cult of personality and a spasm of tribalism, white resentment and authoritarianism. Trump calls a free press the enemy of the people; Fox News leads the cheers. President Trump repeals the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and starts removing protections for Nicaraguans and Hondurans; the anti-immigrant crowd hoots and hollers. He’s for big business but also for trade protectionism; he’s against Islamist terror states but for their Russian patrons; he’s for religious liberty but also for a Muslim travel ban. This is incoherence on steroids.
If there is a single idea animating Trump’s GOP, it is that “blood and soil” (or race and religion, if you prefer) — not the American creed (“All men are created equal…”) — is the defining feature of the United States. Whatever else that is not white and Christian is foreign, alien and a threat to “real America.” Whether in day-to-day politics, foreign affairs or domestic policies, there is no right and wrong, only them and us. That’s Trumpism in a nutshell. The Republican Party’s inability to immediately and completely separate itself from and denounce Moore is the predictable result of this thinking.
I would like to think that Americans have gotten a good look at this Frankenstein-esque party and will repudiate it in 2018 and 2020. I still carry the belief (bolstered by Tuesday’s election) that most Americans have not lost their minds and souls.
Evan McMullin, the independent conservative 2016 presidential candidate, says, “It’s time for the GOP to start over with new leaders, new solutions, new strategies, and a new commitment to basic human decency and American values.” I would add: And a new name, a new logo and … well, just junk the whole thing. Its brand, as they say, has been tarnished, and virtually none of its political leaders possess the moral judgment and intellectual honesty to hold office in the future.
What will be the excuse for enabling Trump and sticking by Trumpism, for sublimating every other value to tribal protection? The GOP needs the Senate seat. We can’t let the left win. But the Supreme Court! These are not defensible arguments if your highest priorities are democracy, decency and the rule of law. They are the childish arguments of people who see politics as a game in which you always root for the home team.
How could one “rebrand” this, or trust these people again? I find it hard to imagine how. So the future of the GOP? It’s either a nationalist front party or a battleground mostly between Trumpists and strident ultra-right-wingers whose platform (repeal Obamacare; corporate tax cuts; reckless foreign policy that imagines war with Iran and/or North Korea are viable options) is unacceptable to the vast majority of the country. It’s not a civil war in which I’d have a favorite side.
In short, the GOP, I think, is kaput. The real question is what sprouts up to fill some of that space, the ground occupied by those who favor reform conservatism; responsible internationalism; free trade and robust immigration; tolerance and the rule of law; and market economics with an ample safety net. I don’t have the answer. I only know it cannot be the GOP.