Throughout the 2016 election, Donald Trump riled up supporters when he promised to build them a wall. The wall would be towering, it would be strong, and it would keep anybody else from getting in. Almost a year after his inauguration, we can say that this is one of the lone promises Trump has delivered on to date. Except, instead of building a wall around Mexico, he has built a wall around the Republican party. To begin our discussion, let’s begin with this fact: In the Republican primary election, Donald Trump captured about 45% of the popular vote. It was only during the general election, when Trump was able to corral the other 55% of Republican voters and bring them to his corner. Today’s conversation will focus on the 55% of voters who supported Trump after supporting another Republican candidate earlier in the primary. If you were to have asked the “55%” why they voted for Trump, you would have most likely gotten an answer that encompassed these two points:
- He’s not Hillary Clinton
- He’s my party’s nominee
It would be reasonable to then say that Republicans felt that all the negative aspects of having Trump as president were a worthy price to pay so long as he had the “(R)” in front of his name. This, they felt, would help them advance conservative, traditional policies and values, while also benefiting their party in the long run. But over a year after his election, however, I believe it is time for Republicans to ask themselves a fair question: Is Trump leaving his party better off than he found it?
Say no Moore
Most Republicans have rushed to condemn Senate hopeful Roy Moore in the face of accusations detailing his preference for teenage women whilst he was well into his 30s. But, as has always been the case in national politics, the President is the one who establishes the party line. So, when Trump was silent in the immediate wake of these allegations, Republicans did what anybody would’ve expected them to do and denounced Moore. However, when Trump offered a strong endorsement of Moore, citing the damage a “liberal Democrat” like Doug Jones would do to his agenda, his party quickly followed suit.
But why did Trump decide to endorse Moore? At the very least, you would expect an American president, and party leader, to distance themselves as much as possible from somebody like Moore, not fully endorse him. However, this only holds true if the leader cares about his or her party. It is clear that Trump does not care about the future of the Republican party, he just wants to get a win and get a win now. Likewise, Trump does not care about the merits of his tax bill, he just wants to cut taxes so he can say he cut taxes. The same can be said for his decision in Israel, which serves no greater purpose other than to say “we did this, it’s a win!”. Repealing Obamacare? Yup, it was quite clear that Trump just wanted to repeal Obamacare just so he could say he repealed Obamacare. There is literally a higher chance that we enter a nuclear war with North Korea than there is that Trump has any kind of vision for the Republican party after he leaves office. That may sound harsh, but am I wrong?
Trump likely knows that the vast majority of Americans (and Republicans) are reviled by the thought of having Roy Moore in office. I would even go as far to say that Trump understands electing Moore will leave a lasting stain on his party. However, none of this matters to him because the only thing that does matter to him is whether or not the warm body in that seat will vote for his agenda. A question one may arrive to after all this may regard why Republicans are content to just play along.
The answer seems to be that most Republicans (save for a few) have a deep seated fear of Trump’s “burn-it-to-the-ground” base, and their calculation is that if they can keep that facet of his base in check over the course of his presidency, then they can resume business as usual after his presidency ends.
Not So Fast
But a look at some voter demographic data tells a different story.
As of April of 2016 there were 69.2 millennial voters. If we were to account for all the 18th birthdays that have been celebrated since April of 2016, we could assume that this number is now closer to 80 million. Generation Z, the generation following millennials, is even larger than that. For some perspective, consider the fact that the highest amount of eligible voters the baby-boomer generation could lay claim to was 69.2 million recorded in 2004. Read the study here.
Any rational actor who had the future of his party in mind would understand this, and would make a concerted effort to ensure the long-term viability of their party. So, when Donald Trump offers a weak, ambiguous, and seemingly forced denunciation of white supremacists after one of them murders a counter protester, it doesn’t exactly play well to the future voters of this country; and retweeting an anti-muslim video from a group of white supremacists only further denigrates the Republican party to the nation’s youth.
It is quite clear that Donald Trump would rather ensure that he can keep his hard-line voters happy instead of trying to modernize his party and prepare it for the future. Would a real Republican do this?
What’s the Good News?
It is exceedingly clear that Trump does not care about the future of his party; to him, the Republican party represents nothing more than a yes vote on his agenda. Trump has tried so desperately to cling to his small base of support that he is actively shutting out any individual unblinded by their ideology, and while that is a big issue for Republicans, it is an even bigger opportunity for Centrists and Independents. With Donald Trump leading the moral, intellectual, and ethical decay of the Republican party, more and more Republican voters (especially young ones), will begin turning to third party candidates. I would know, since I am one of them. But it’s not just me, half of millennial voters consider themselves to be independents. This is a trend that will only continue as we move forward.
The biggest reason people do not support third party candidates is because they believe other people do not support third party candidates, and that they’d be wasting their vote on one. Imagine a world in which a viable third party candidate who was socially accepting and fiscally responsible ran in a high level election. Do you believe that dynamic would change our politics for the better? Because I certainly do. So, while third party candidates still have much more to do in order to make themselves electable options, we should all be aware that we exist at a time where this is more feasible than it ever has been. The only question is: Will Independents capitalize?