After Trump, There’s No Turning Back
Neither Party Will Be The Same After This Year’s Election
I remember the day like it was yesterday…
It was Wednesday, August 6th, the day of the first Republican primary debate. But this one was going to be different and we all knew it. Politically speaking, it had been the ‘Summer of Trump’, a media headline used to describe the industry’s own fascination with the real estate mogul. However, that night the nation saw a political novice flip the political world on its ass.
So I popped a bag of popcorn, got ready for the show and not even thirty seconds into that debate I uttered the words, ‘This is really happening.’
Donald Trump, running to become the Republican presidential nominee, tells Fox News moderator Bret Baier he’s unwilling to pledge his support to the party’s eventual nominee, nor would he make a pledge to not run as an independent candidate should he fail to secure the Republican nomination.
That’s how long it took to break the Republican Party.
That debate made one thing very clear, our political process had been turned into a reality show. An honest to goodness reality competition where instead of policy and legislation, we watched the candidates do their best to trump each other (pun definitely intended).
But that was my mistake. At the time, I didn’t give Trump enough credit. Our political process wasn’t just being turned into a reality show. Something much bigger was happening and it would change politics in America forever.
This is not just about Donald Trump. It’s about the hard choices members of the Republican Party are going to have to make. It’s about the impact those decisions will have on voters and the elected officials who identify with the Tea Party. It’s about the Democrat Party’s similar quest to find their own identity in a post-Obama world. It’s about the millions of Americans who have lost their faith in our government and are so distraught they’re willing to watch the entire system break, rather than keep the status quo.
Without Donald Trump the tectonic shift would be less noticeable, but it was going to happen sooner or later.
Trump believes there is no merit in doing something unless you know you can win (or turn a profit). But no one could have predicted the response his campaign has received since announcing his candidacy, nor could they have predicted his staggering leads in both state and national polls. Needless to say, he must be very happy with the way things have turned out.
Trump has actually taken to politics rather quickly. He appears to be making an honest effort at being a politician as opposed to just serving as a megaphone of discontent. But as the focus shifts to Iowa and New Hampshire you can tell he’s feeling the gravity of the moment.
At Liberty University on January 18th, Trump quoted “Two Corinthians” which got a round of laughs from the students attending his speech. There was a beat where you could feel a shred of self-doubt set in. But considering who we’re talking about, Trump pushed forward, adding “You know, when you think, and that’s really, is that the one? Is that the one you like? I think that’s the one you like, because I love it.”.
A day later, with Senator Ted Cruz hot on his heels in Iowa, Trump delivered remarks pandering to the ethanol lobby at the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit. He declared he would work towards the goal of energy independence if he were elected President, and made it fifteen seconds before going off script, asking the crowd “So far you agree with me, right?”
Most of the time the candidates will work on their talking points behind the scenes. They’ll try out some new material on the road, float some broad policy-related statements to the press and get a feel for the response. Maybe even get a pollster involved. But not Trump.
I’ve never seen a candidate so openly seek the love and admiration from his supporters the way Trump has. There’s not even an attempt to disclose how he will actually lead the country as President. His core beliefs change as quickly as the wind blows, just as long as voters are hearing exactly what they want to hear.
It’s no secret candidates have tailor-made platforms optimized to win over their party’s base, lobbyist groups and independent voters. But Trump’s daft caricature of a politician is creating a fevered following of lemming-like supporters so distraught with our current political state that they’d rather take a chance on a straight-talking wildcard that represents the possibility of disrupting the current way of doing business in Washington, DC.
Trump knows this, which is why he so boldly proclaims he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, okay, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay?”
You’d think that would be the final straw for most Republicans, but it’s not because of the contagion that is Trump.
Trump has changed the rules of how to campaign for president, which has already had a profound impact on the Republican Party. Just ask Scott Walker, Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz.
Once a rising star in the party, Walker was out of the race before it started. Bush was supposed to be a real threat for the nomination but instead is making his brother look like a masterful campaigner. Both have suffered the same fate, political deaths at the hands of Donald Trump.
Unlike Walker and Bush, Cruz has benefited the most from the Trump phenomenon. Known for his Tea-Party appeal and anti-Obamacare antics, Trump’s bombastic rhetoric has allowed Senator Cruz to play the straight man to his clown act while still tapping into the same frustrated voters.
The Trump-Cruz dynamic is interesting because Trump’s candidacy has opened a door for Cruz that may not have been there otherwise while Cruz’s rise in the polls is giving Trump something he didn’t have before, the support of the Republican Party. Cruz’s colleagues in the Senate have acquired such a distaste for the Senator from Texas that it’s hard to tell who dislikes him more, Republicans or Democrats?
The big question here is whether or not Republican voters fully understand the power they have in this election. This is not about holding a majority in Congress, the prospect of nominating Supreme Court Justices or even actually winning back the White House. Republican voters will decide whether or not the Grand Old Party survives the rest of the year.
Convincing Paul Ryan to become Speaker of the House was a critical step towards stability and credibility within the ranks of the GOP, but it’s all for naught if Trump wins the nomination and the party is forced to adopt his absurd political platforms.
If Trump or Cruz wins the nomination, it will be a major blow to the establishment wing and give the Tea-Party caucus a new mandate to remake the Republican Party in their image.
Then again, if someone like Senator Marco Rubio happens to win the party’s nomination, the establishment would rally around him, reaffirm their stronghold on policy and further frustrate members of the Tea Party, which would then become an even more disruptive, dissenting voice in the Republican Party.
Democrats are facing an equally challenging time.
Nine months into her second bid for the White House it’s abundantly clear voters are not excited for Hillary Clinton. A skilled politician who not only has a expert-level grasp of policy but also knows how to play the political game, she cannot escape the reputation of being a calculating, entitled member of the old guard.
Then there’s the populist upstart in Senator Bernie Sanders, who brings a strong message of political revolution at the ripe old age of seventy-four. His campaign is resonating with people of all walks of life and you can’t help but think Hillary is sitting in her office thinking ‘not again’. But let’s assume Sanders can win the nomination and the presidency, what are the chances this democratic socialist can pass any of the reforms he’s campaigning on?
The biggest problem for the Democrat Party is that neither of the candidates represent the future. Even if they win this general election, and then re-election four years from now, what happens then?
Barack Obama bears some of the blame for this dilemma. A transformative candidate and a consequential president, he will no doubt go down as one of the most important political figures in U.S. history. But he has failed to remake Washington into a place where both parties work together to solve the country’s most pressing concerns.
Looking back at the past seven years, his presidency has been a band aid. He stopped the economic crisis, passed an imperfect but much needed health care law, gave Democrats hope and the nation a reason to forget George W. Bush. But his tenure in the White House did not usher in a new era of progressive politics and a willing coalition of young Democratic lawmakers, ensuring his legacy lives on for decades to come.
This is clearly an end of politics as we know it. Our country faces many challenges ahead, both from within and beyond our borders. One party will rise to the challenge, it just won’t be one of the parties we recognize today.