The fall of the Grand Old Party and the rise of the ‘Trump Train’

Pundits are calling this the worst week of Donald Trump’s campaign — and it’s only Tuesday.

Over 160 prominent Republicans have publicly withdrawn support from the Republican nominee. He’s lost his lead over Hillary Clinton among independent voters, with the latter now beating him at 44–33 percent. His support among college-educated women is at an all-time low, which should surprise no one. What should be surprising is that he’s lost support from one group of women in particular — white women without college degrees — which once formed a significant portion of his voter base.

This demographic has historically been a stalwart bastion of support for the Republicans, having rallied around George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. That their support is now evenly split between Trump and Clinton is a small but significant clue that we are witnessing the protracted implosion of the Republican Party.

And yet Trump’s other core supporters are proving to be remarkably resilient. He still carries a substantial lead among white men, including the college-educated. 61 percent of voters said that Republicans who decided to withdraw support for Trump over the last few days “lack character and dignity”, suggesting that the withdrawal of endorsements could hurt down-ballot Republicans in some key Congressional races.

At a rally in Pennsylvania this week — mere days after his lecherous comments about women caused a national outrage — Trump was greeted by thousands of cheering fans who hailed him as “the next president.” These are the people that Trump continues to campaign for: the ones that he’s already won over, those who will stick with him until the bitter end.

Such unwavering loyalty begs an important question. What will happen to Trump’s supporters after the election?

One answer is that they’ll fade into the annals of American politics — not unlike the young hopefuls who rallied around Barack Obama in 2008 only to stay home from the polls four years later, disillusioned and apathetic.

Another possibility is that they’ll take over the GOP in proper Robin Hood-fashion — stealing it from the (white) rich and giving it to the (white) poor. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time the Republican Party has undergone an ideology-makeover. We’ve seen it change to accommodate fringe groups before: Christian conservatives in the 1990s, a nascent Tea Party in the late 2000s. However, it’s quite possible that the GOP has finally reached its maximum ideological occupancy. The views of yet another far-right faction could prove too much for it to take.

If 160 endorsement withdrawals are any indication, the GOP is more likely headed for a fracture than an expansion. And the people causing it to rupture aren’t going anywhere soon.

In 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson beat Barry Goldwater with one of the biggest electoral majorities of the 20th century. With his infamous ‘Daisy’ ad, Johnson managed to paint Goldwater as a trigger-happy fanatic who couldn’t be trusted anywhere near the nuclear codes — a man who was truly unfit to be president. Sound familiar?

Here’s the kicker. Even in an landslide defeat, Goldwater got about 40% of the popular vote. In other words, approximately 28 million people still voted for an ‘unfit’ candidate.

If current polls are any indication, Trump will eke out an even higher percentage of the popular vote on Election Day. That makes it harder to dismiss the “Trump Train” as just another fringe movement. Come Election Day, Trump voters may number in the minority. But they compose a significant one.

The tens of millions of people who will vote for Trump aren’t going to just disappear when the election is over. In fact, now that their views have gone mainstream they may never go away. This election has legitimized an ideology that is racist, sexist and xenophobic by broadcasting it from a national platform. Like kicking over a rock, it’s shed light on a dark underside of the American psyche — and there’s no going back.