BY ALEX FULLING (3/1/2016)
The Republican Party has never disappointed in supplying a plurality of candidates in its recent presidential primaries. In 2008 there were 12, in 2012 – 11, and most recently at the peak of the 2016 cycle – 17. It wasn’t much of a shock in ’08 when the party overwhelmingly (~72% of convention delegates) nominated John McCain from the pack; a dedicated conservative with an impressive Senate career and a valorous military background. Governor Huckabee, the runner-up, was too evangelical in the new progressive America and Mitt Romney’s record in Massachusetts was betraying of his closet-liberalism. In 2012, the party decided that if they were going to beat Barack Obama they needed to pick a candidate who could carry swing voters and the ideological center. Rick Santorum carried the evangelical support, but the party eventually rallied around Mitt Romney at the convention and onwards despite their lukewarm reception of him four years prior. This year however, everything is different.
In 2016 there have been more viable candidates running on the Republican ticket than ever before. At the outset there were five U.S. Senators, nine governors, and two prominent business leaders. Furthermore, the party is as divided on its support of these different candidates as it has ever been; Trump, Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich (and Bush and Christie while they were still in the running) all have significant amounts of support. But the important differences in this race lie in the post-nomination period.
As previously mentioned, despite the similarly dramatic and divisive primaries of 2008 and 2012, the Republican party was easily able to rally around its nominee following the conventions in those years. But let’s examine the candidate pool for this year, and compare it to the previous two party nominees. This year the only candidate who is anything like ’08 John McCain in terms of ideology and rhetorical balance is Marco Rubio. Unfortunately for Senator Rubio, he’s currently stuck in third place. It’s widely held that Rubio is the only candidate who could beat Trump due to his strength and solid conservative record, but his support is plateauing due to both the distribution of his ‘would-be voters’ amongst the likes of Kasich and Cruz (and previously Bush and Christie as well) and to the political fervor and uprising of the far-right conservative base that constitute the supporters of Trump and Cruz. I won’t delve into too much hypothetical speculation, but it is quite possible that even if Trump and Rubio were the only two candidates in this primary that Trump would still win due to the sheer strength and numbers of this newly energized, hard-right voter bloc. As for Mitt Romney: there are no Mitt Romneys. Kasich is undoubtedly similar in terms of policy and rationality, but doesn’t have a strong enough voice to be heard during debates and nor enough flare to rally any energized support. Furthermore, Kasich represents the new Republican party of modernism, progressive reform, and bipartisan rationality, as did Romney, and it’s quite clear that this movement has been sidelined amongst the Republican base – at least for now.
So not only is the hard right surging, there’s also no viable alternate candidates to Trump for Republicans. So….what are Republican voters to do? There are a few options: 1) ride it out and hope for a miracle for your alternate candidate at the convention, 2) give up on 2016 and not vote for anyone, 3) support Trump, or 4) vote on the democratic ticket. This article isn’t about my predictions or answers to this question, but rather serves just to highlight this gargantuan looming decision that needs to be made by Republican voters when Trump (inevitably at this point) solidifies his win in the coming weeks.
Stay tuned America.