On June 16th, 2015, a former reality TV host with four bankruptcies, a large inheritance, and an even bigger ego declared his candidacy for the 2016 Republican race. When he declared, he was polling well below 5% and three candidates were polling above 10%. On July 20, Trump’s polling averages jumped to about 17%, putting him ahead of Jeb once and for good. Aside from a brief period of time in early November where he was slightly behind neurosurgeon and fellow ultracrepidarian Ben Carson, Trump has enjoyed large leads in the polls. In the Year of the Outsider, Trump has shown that being labeled as “establishment” can be a campaign killer. He has shown that Rove’s Law, the idea that no politician should say anything that could be turned into a negative, 3 second sound bite, doesn’t work on him. Trump has remade the American political campaign into a ghastly ball of intolerance, bigotry, and anti-intellectualism, and yet he’s romped his won to the presumed nomination.
While it is unfair to call all Trump supporters overt racists, his campaign has been an extreme example of the Southern Strategy that would make Lee Atwater and Richard Nixon jealous. Trump’s race-baiting techniques, which would’ve likely destroyed any other candidate, have been a massive boon to him. Controversial comment after controversial comment, scandal after scandal, and yet Trump still rose in the polls. What irony that the GOP may be done in by a man who is essentially the right-wing boogeyman: a loathsome, foul narcissist who has no grasp of foreign policy nor domestic, no qualifications, possibly the worst list of potential advisors in American history, and a bad hairpiece to boot. Imagine telling Thomas Jefferson or George Washington or Abraham Lincoln that a major American political party was destroyed from the inside by a man who had never even held political office before.
Mary Matalin. Mitt Romney. Dubya, H.W., and Jeb. Ben Sasse. Lindsey Graham. Paul Ryan. The list of prominent GOP strategists and politicians who refuse to support Trump or attend the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio only grows. The Republican Party appears to be on the verge of utter collapse and it’s not exactly clear what caused this schism. Of course, radical centrist Donald J. Trump’s “self-funded” xenophobic, racist, misogynistic tirade that appears to have been a winning campaign in the modern Republican Party hasn’t helped the cause. The flight of the moderate GOP to a 3rd party that may coalesce around Mitt Romney, Tom Coburn, or James Mattis is deeply troubling for the future of American politics. The hypothetical “Party of Trump” would be a mainstream fascist party with follow-up candidates for President such as Chris Chrisite, Paul LePage, Jeff Sessions, and other Trump-endorsing Republicans. The big question: how did the GOP go from the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower to Trump and Palin?
One major issue plaguing the American right-wing is that the voters are becoming conservative faster than the leadership. This can mainly be chalked up to one thing: mass media. Rush Limbaugh has often been considered the voice of the GOP and his mass influence, with an estimated weekly audience of over 13.25 million people, makes his far-right stances quite mainstream. Since the ascendence of the Tea Party in 2009, he has espoused their views on his show. Even worse, he has given credence to the idea that the Republican Party wants to silence the Tea Party faction within it. FOX News, the far-right reality TV channel that poses as news, has also stumped for the Tea Party.
Especially considering how many Americans are now confined into their own echo chambers where they only read news that supports their ideological beliefs, this is a major problem. I would argue that the feedback loop of moving FOX to the right while declaring all other news sources as “liberal”, rinse, repeat has generally worsened political discourse. “Death panels”, Obama’s $200,000,000 a day trip to Asia, the birther movement. All ludicrous things that FOX News and other right-wing media sources have sold as fact to their audience and have become mainstream thoughts within American politics.
Another major issue involving the right-wing is the increasing diversity of America and the racial resentment that is now almost an accepted part of their ideology. Look at FOX News’ coverage and comments of race-based events as of late, such as the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the Baltimore protests of 2015, and the school officer assault in 2015. The Tea Party has long been accused of being tied to hate groups and even being a recruiting front for them. Why is this a big problem, aside from that obviously racism and bigotry are not okay in any way? The coded words used by politicians such as Reagan (welfare queens, food stamps) were no longer needed apparently; he threw out the dog whistle and used a tuba. Trump literally called Mexicans drug dealers and rapists in his declaration, yet his poll numbers shot up. He said that a Black Lives Matter protester “should’ve been roughed up” yet his poll numbers increased. He proposed a ban on Muslim immigration and called to kill the families of terrorists in the Middle East. Yet and still, he is the presumed nominee for the Republican Party in 2016.
What could possibly be the worst part of this is that this election was so positioned for a political bloodbath. 8 years of Democratic control on the White House by our nation’s first African-American president, the rise of the Tea Party, the looming fear of ISIS, terrorist attacks in Europe, growing fears about the economy, and others factors made it clear that this election cycle was not going to be the same old, same old. While it wasn’t clear from the start that Trump would get the nomination, it was definitely clear that there was some division amongst the GOP. 17 major candidates representing the establishment, namely Jeb and Rubio, Tea Party firebrands such as Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, moderates such as Kasich and Christie, and outsiders Carson, Trump, and Fiorina showed a clearly polarized party as they were the largest candidate pool in U.S. history for any political party.