Republicans have been slow in recognizing the real damage Donald Trump is doing to their party. The harm is not to the party’s image. What Trump has done is exacerbate the increasingly bitter rift between the party’s leaders and its grass roots. He’s made the GOP’s future dicey.
The quarter of the Republican electorate Trump has attracted consists largely of this alienated group. Since he voices their resentment of Republican elites – especially their arch-enemies in Congress – he’s become their champion. And champions are hard to dethrone.
Trump doesn’t have to run as an independent to be a serious troublemaker. As long as he stays in the GOP race, the split in the party is likely to deepen and primaries may turn into nasty and divisive contests. And imagine if he wins enough delegates to disrupt the Republican convention by making demands. The media would again make him the center of attention.
“The Republican party created Donald Trump, because they made lot of promises to their base and never kept them,” Erick Erickson, the conservative editor of RedState, told Molly Ball of the Atlantic.
Erickson is right. “At this point, most of the people I encounter on radio and on the internet, they’re not really people who at the end of the day want to vote for Donald Trump,” Erickson said. “But they sure do like that he’s burning down the Republican Party that never listened to them to begin with.”
In Washington, the rift isn’t taken seriously. But it should be. Even before Trump arrived on the Republican scene it was getting worse. It began to grow after Republicans won the House in 2010. A significant chunk of the rank and file, spurred by right wing talk radio, blamed Republican leadership in Washington for failing to thwart President Obama and reverse or minimize victories he’d won in his first two years of office when Democrats had large majorities in both houses of Congress.
After Republicans captured the Senate in 2014, things got worse. Twenty-eight Republicans voted against John Boehner for another term as House speaker. This was an unusually large bloc of dissenters and reflected the dissatisfaction with GOP leaders of many grass roots Republicans.
Now the conservative media is asking why Republicans, with their control of Congress and dominance in statehouses across the country, has achieved so little in Washington. “Why does the Republican party exist?” Ben Domenech wrote in The Federalist.
He pointed to three Republican failures: to kill renewal of the Export-Import Bank, defund Planned Parenthood, and block the Iran nuclear deal. Republican leaders have credible explanations for each of these setbacks, but their critics are not persuaded.
Domenech wrote: “Perhaps you believe the Republican party exists as a party of limited government and free markets.” But that is “impossible,” he said, after McConnell cleared the way to revive the Ex-Im Bank, whose charter expired June 30. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) accused Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of promising a vote to Democrats get their support for a trade bill. But it didn’t take a secret deal for a vote on the bank to occur, given its strong support (most Democrats, nearly half of Republicans).
On Planned Parenthood, Domenech questioned whether the GOP is credible as a pro-life party after McConnell declined to allow an up-or-down vote on halting its federal funding, at least on funding for “taxpayer subsidization of harvesting organs from aborted babies.” Democrats had earlier blocked a vote on procedural grounds.
The problem with raising the funding issue is simple: it might lead to a government shutdown. And McConnell is bent on avoiding just that. He fears Republicans would be blamed, even if the cause of a shutdown were an Obama veto. Chances are, they would be, and Democrats would be delighted. Still, there are many Republicans who think another bid to defund Planned Parenthood is worth the risk.
On the Iran deal, Domenech faulted Senate Republicans for settling for a weak hand in taking up the deal, ceding “their Constitutional duty.” Obama packaged the deal as an executive agreement, which means it doesn’t require congressional approval, much less a two-thirds majority as in the case of a treaty.