The nomination of Donald Trump as the Republican presidential
nominee in Cleveland in July, and his possible election in
November, will change American politics indelibly.
First of all, it will change the demographics of the Republican
Party, lately a party divided between a mainstream
conservative establishment and a growing populist conservative
grass roots base.
The beginning of this divide took place in 1964 when an
“outsider” (Senator Barry Goldwater) won the GOP nomination
asserting values and beliefs that were not only jarring to
Democrats, but to establishment moderate Republicans who
would have preferred New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller to
be their standard bearer. Mr. Goldwater then lost badly in
November, but his flag was picked up after a politically
unfortunate interregnum with Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew
(both of whom finally resigned in disgrace) by Ronald Reagan, a
fading movie star who had been elected governor of California.
In 1980, much to the surprise of most observers, Mr. Reagan
won the presidency from a hapless one-term incumbent (Jimmy
Carter) with the key help of some blue collar Democrats, and he
followed that victory with a huge landslide in 1984 against Mr.
Carter’s vice president, Walter Mondale. He accomplished this
with even more blue collar and middle class voters who had
previously been electing Democrats.
Much as the Democrats and their media allies like to portray
Republicans as plutocrats, exploiters of the poor, and religious
fanatics, that image is now more than a half century or more out
of date. (In fact, most of the new super-rich are liberal voters
and donors, and many liberals are for anti-free speech political
correctness, and are feverishly anti-religious). Corporate
America has been tilting to the Democrats for years, and the
party that championed the founding of the state of Israel has
now become predominately (and shamefully) anti-Israel.
Most Republicans today are struggling entrepreneurs, blue
collar and lower-income white collar workers who often hold
traditional social values and religious beliefs. The old
upper-income, Ivy League-educated GOP establishment has
dwindled, although it has maintained a hold on conservative
institutions. There are divisions within these ranks. Social
conservatives often resist social changes in American society,
while “libertarian” conservatives embrace them. Some
conservatives are pro-free trade internationalists; others
have U.S. self-interests as a priority. There are differences
about the use of the military. The conservative grass roots
are not a monolith.
One casualty of this evolution of the Republican Party has been
the turning away from a former center right base that included
pro-choice and “moderate” Republicans. Sometimes call “Rinos”
(“Republicans in name only”), this cleavage paralleled an
equivalent cleavage on the Democratic side in which “pro-life”
and traditionally-religious centrist liberals were systematically
drummed out of the party.
Donald Trump’s emergence turns this upside down. A former
liberal Democrat (as was Ronald Reagan), super-rich, educated at
a top Ivy League university, Trump nonetheless speaks the
language of the new class of Republican conservative grass roots
voters. He annoys, with that same language, the old establishment
political class of the GOP who have for years now enjoyed the
votes of the new class, but ignored their concerns, anxieties and
Although I did not at all see the Trump phenomenon coming, and
he was not my preferred candidate for president in 2016, I now
see what I have described in recent months as a “mutiny” of
voters to be exactly that. The working crews of the Republican
and Democratic parties have risen up against the captains and
officers of the two major parties. In the case of the Democrats,
the mutiny has apparently been partly put down for the time
being, but in the case of the Republicans, the mutiny is apparently
succeeding with a “stowaway” named Donald Trump as the new
It is a self-delusion for the old GOP mainstream to believe that
Mr. Trump is destined to lose the 2016 election, and that all will
revert back to normal in the Republican Party after that election.
The columnist George Will personifies this kind of thinking. He
calls any conservative who supports Mr. Trump a “quisling” --- a
term derived from the name of a Norwegian fascist politician who
became the puppet leader of that nation under Hitlerian control
during World War II. Mr. Will, who for years has picked losers to
be nominees of the Republican Party, typifies the snobbery which
has alienated so many grass roots conservatives. Mr. Will is a
bright, articulate and often thoughtful essayist on public policy
issues, and I often agree with his views, but not his elitist disdain
for anyone who disagrees with him.
There has been a mean side to Donald Trump’s discourse in the
2016 campaign, including three among many instances, his
put-down of Marco Rubio as “little Marco,” his denigration of
John McCain’s distinguished war service, and his completely
wrong and mean-spirited description of Tom Ridge as a “failed
Pennsylvania governor.” (Mr. Ridge was probably the most
accomplished chief executive of the Keystone State in the
post-war period.) Some of Trump’s language about women was
not merely politically-incorrect, it was just plain crude and sexist.
Most observers, myself included, put a focus on this, and not on
the larger strategy Donald Trump was pursuing this campaign
year, and we missed the connection the New York businessman
was making with the Republican grass roots on other issues.
If Donald Trump, the GOP nominee, is merely a duplicate of
Donald Trump, the nomination aspirant, he will likely fail in
November. Knowing his experience and his ego, I think that is
unlikely, but should he fail to be elected president, the republic
The Republican Party, on the other hand, will not be the same
whether Mr. Trump wins or loses. A new generation and a new
class of conservatives have taken over the ship (as has also
happened in the Democratic Party), and from now on (as far as
we can see on the political horizon), it will not ever again be
politics-as-has-been-usual in the U.S.A.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.