How will Democrats run against a Republican Party that also advocates entitlements and trade barriers?
Republican Party dies, will it take the Democrats with it?
This sort of thing happens all the time in business and entertainment. 3M started out as a mining company; now it makes sticky notes (and seemingly a trillion other things). Maybe giving Trump the lead vocals of the GOP will be like when
Van Halenreplaced David Lee Roth with Sammy Hagar — not the same band, but pretty successful all the same.
That’s a bad analogy, of course. Because Hagar was a good frontman with the full support of his band. Give Trump the mic, and a lot of the most talented people in the Republican Party will drop their instruments and walk off the stage.
But a lot of new people might like the show. The Trump campaign points to all the working-class Democrats and independents flocking to his message, nowhere more so than in Indiana on Tuesday. If they’re successful, the GOP won’t be the party of limited government and free markets anymore. Instead, it will be more like a party of a kind of statist white-identity politics, of the sort that is common across much of Europe. White folks can play the multiculturalism game, too.
“Are you black? Are you Hispanic? Are you gay?” Trump ideologist
Roger Stone once asked Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf. When Sheinkopf said, “No,” Stone replied, “Then why the f--- are you a Democrat? You should be with us.”
If Trump and Stone succeed in transforming the party along these lines, Democrats will likely benefit in the short run because the electorate is just too diverse to sustain the kind of Republican Party that Stone described. Indeed, Democrats I talk to are once again envisioning another new New Deal. That’s no surprise. The Democrats have been a cargo cult to the New Deal for nearly a century, and they always think the resurrection is at hand.
That’s what they thought when
President Obama was elected in 2008. Boy, were they wrong. The Democratic Party thrived under FDR, but it shriveled under Obama.
“During Obama's eight years in office, the Democrats have lost more House, Senate, state legislative and governors seats than under any other president,” writes NPR’s Mara Liasson. She adds, "Democrats currently hold fewer elected offices nationwide than at any time since the 1920s."
There are many reasons for this, but one is particularly relevant. Obama lost the traditional heart of the Democratic Party: the white working class. In fairness, the Democrats’ trouble with blue-collar whites pre-dates Obama, but Obama accelerated the process. In 2012, he lost this group by 26 points (62%-36%). Trump is winning with those votes.
POLICING THE USA: A look at race, justice, media
Also, because the electorate in non-presidential elections is older and whiter, the Democrats were crushed in 2010 and 2014.
Moderate and centrist Democrats have been effectively purged from the party. Hillary Clinton might look like a somewhat conservative Democrat to some, but that’s mostly because she has been hounded for months by an avowed democratic socialist.
If the GOP actually did implode tomorrow, it would spell both a short-term bonanza for the Democrats and a long-term existential crisis. People forget that beyond policy and philosophy, what sustains both parties is a kind of team sport. The Democrats run on being anti-GOP, and the Republicans campaign on being anti-Democrat. Take away one dance partner, and the one left on the floor has no idea what to do next.
And dancing with
Donald Trump won't be anything like dancing with Ted Cruz, who has suspended his campaign. The Democrats have no idea how to tango with a new GOP that also promises to maintain or expand entitlement programs, raise trade barriers and tax the wealthy. If the Republican Party under Trump joins Democrats in wanting to fund Planned Parenthood, how will we tell who is leading and who is following?
Whether Trump destroys or merely transforms the GOP, the net effect could be the same: Both parties could lose their reliable rationale for existence. That kind of creative destruction could leave a vacuum for one or more new parties to fill the void.
Jonah Goldberg, an
American Enterprise Institute fellow and National Review contributing editor, is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.