GOP’s Failure in 2016 Would Create Seismic Shift in American Politics

Sean Para, Columnist

The 2016 election is increasingly revealing the seismic shifts that have taken place in American politics over the past decades, as well as the possibility of a new political order. Donald Trump’s surge to the front of the race for the Republican nomination may fracture the GOP for generations to come. An unexpected groundswell of support for Trump’s campaign also displays the strong undercurrents of racism and other forms of prejudice found in the contemporary U.S. A year ago, I never would have believed that a man who openly and regularly makes racist and sexist remarks, has no government experience, speaks only in vague generalities with no concrete policy details and was hesitant to reject the support of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke would be the leading nominee for president. That Trump could win seven states in one day shows much deeper support for backward-facing and hateful policies among lower-middle-class white voters than most people were aware of. Trump has also fractured the Republican party into two opposing wings: moderates who look to the party’s past — Dwight D. Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt — and radical populists like Sarah Palin and Trump. Trump threatens to tear the Republican party apart and drastically alter the future of American politics.

The origin of our modern political alignment is the result of major shifts in the Republican Party during the 1960s. Before that period, the South had largely been the domain of the Democratic Party, which, until the Civil Rights era, contained both white segregationist and progressive factions. However, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s embrace of the Civil Rights movement in 1964 shattered the party, driving Southern white voters to the Republican Party. Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” won him the presidency in 1968 — with the help of a rebel segregationist party splitting off from the Democrats — and the South remains staunchly Republican to this day, except for a few liberal pockets around Dallas, TX; Austin, TX; Charlotte, NC; and Atlanta, GA. The Democratic Party, in turn, realigned itself with minorities and labor unions, among other groups, to remain one of the two hegemonic political parties.

The 1960s split within the Democrats is mirrored by today’s schism in the Republican Party. Trump encapsulates all of the racist, populist and radically conservative elements of the party that have emerged from the party’s realignment. Opposing the radicals like Trump is a traditional Republican establishment, rooted in historical values and conservatism — which has firmly intellectual roots — and a pragmatic and moderate vision for the U.S. The establishment can clearly see that Trump’s rampant alienation of minorities — particularly Hispanic and Muslim voters — as well as women is not a winning strategy for the Republican party. That so many would support Trump exposes an identity crisis for the party that may well result in its complete fracture.

Make no mistake: We are currently witnessing a series of events that could mark a new phase of American politics. While the Republicans are mired in civil war, the Democrats are rallying around Hillary Clinton, whose strong showing on Super Tuesday solidified her lead. While Bernie Sanders is still in the running, the Democrats are not facing the same polarization as their rivals. Clinton and Sanders have very different policies, but they are along the same spectrum in many respects. The Democrats and American progressives are in a position to win big in November due to the acrimonious state of the Republican Party. The Republicans, in turn, may be staring into the void.