By now it’s clear that Donald Trump has been among the most divisive figures in the history of the Republican Party. Critics cite his cultural insensitivities and ideological inconsistencies as clear evidence of his inability to lead. Hardline supporters are attracted to his general disregard for political correctness and his apparent media invincibility, and none of his shortcomings made him as unattractive to them as a liberal alternative or a third party. A third demographic has showed up that appear to be liberal-minded people who were disaffected with the left’s white-shaming tactics.
Donald Trump has revealed (or created) a divide on the right that signals either a seismic shift or the end of the Republican Party. If the GOP is to survive into the next election cycle, what tweaks do they need to make ideologically and strategically? Here are a few:
Moderate Their Stance on Immigration
Whether you like or hate Obama’s executive immigration action, he was right about one thing: we don’t have the resources to conduct mass-deportations of illegal immigrants, and any attempt to do so would be a PR disaster – painting INS and the government as the modern-day SS. The traditional Republican stance asserts that anything short of this final solution constitutes amnesty and is therefore completely unacceptable. Republicans must find a solution to this issue that is more practical. A new position will certainly focus on border security and rule of law, but must also include relaxing of restrictions on legal immigration and an enforcement mechanism that actually works.
Draw In Conservative Libertarians
The libertarian vote is small, but statistically significant. This platform pulls far more votes away from conservatives than it does from liberals, making it a strategically important voting bloc to GOP candidates. This election cycle has demonstrated that Republicans are in no danger of alienating evangelicals — even if they fail miserably to represent them — so there is no strategic reason not to moderate some social conservative stances that are no longer drawing out the voters.
Republicans will probably never be able to satisfy the almost anarchist wishes of hardline libertarians, but with the never-ending rise of the nanny state and the complicity of traditional conservatives in its advance, an increasing number of Republicans are viewing their own party as pro-establishment, pro-big government, and pro-corporatist hustlers. Republicans need to replace their strategy on the War on Drugs and the War on Terror to something with more visible results and less disruption to non-criminals, or they must risk hemorrhaging their base.
Tackle the Hard Issues
“Obamacare may be a bad solution, but at least he had a solution! The Republicans haven’t done anything to solve the problem!” This sentiment was the fuel behind passing Obamacare, and the stumbling block behind Republicans’ inability to repeal it. The same can be said for education, poverty, and spending. Liberals have come to see the GOP as the party of “no,” to which Republicans respond “we’re only the party of ‘no to bad ideas.’” Be that as it may, many right-leaning Americans have come to see the GOP as the party of “the status quo,” which does little to energize a base behind a viable candidate. They don’t need to go left on any of these issues, but they need to go somewhere.
Articulate a Clear, Consistent Platform
Speaking of viable candidates, if Trump has taught Republicans anything, it’s that people will follow what they perceive as a strong leader, even if they can’t fully subscribe to his or her ideas. Rebuilding the post-Trump platform will not happen unless a charismatic, unifying figure can bring the fractured segments of the right-leaning population together. Besides articulating a strong position (as Reagan did), this candidate must also be able to reach across the aisle and effectively work with both houses of Congress to enact proactive legislation (as Reagan did).
Neither classical Republicans nor the Tea Party/Trumpites will respond well to these shifts. This is to be expected. But if Republicans can’t find some unity in their platform and candidates, they will essentially be delivering their vote to the Democrats or whatever party rises from the ashes of the GOP.