By Thornton Blount (8/28/16)
One of the biggest disparities I noticed between the RNC and DNC immediately upon my arrival in Philadelphia was the number of protestors. To clarify, each city had protestors – but their numbers and the nature of their protests were strikingly different. In Cleveland, the protestors were focused on specific conservative policy beliefs/issues. There were white supremacist protests, government overreach protests, religious protests, etc. Also of course, there were counter-protestors, advocating for issues like womens’ rights, LGBT rights, campaign finance, etc. In Philadelphia however, the only protestors whatsoever were Bernie Sanders supporters. There were comparatively few issue-specific protests, save the scattered anarchist or green groups, and there were also no conservative counter-protests. Furthermore, in Cleveland, none of these groups actually went in to the convention, while in Philly they were a centerpiece inside the arena.
Although the margin of victory between Trump and his runner-ups was notably bigger than that between Hillary and Bernie, I was shocked that (aside from Ted Cruz) the GOP convention went so smoothly. It’s true that this election cycle the Democratic Party has produced two dramatically different candidates, and the party was nearly split evenly in half between them during the primaries. And while the latter point is not as true of the Republican party this cycle, as Trump won by 5 million votes and Clinton only by 3 million, isn’t it true that the Republican nominee is even more dramatically different than his runner-ups than Clinton is from her runner-up? In terms of policy, Trump isn’t actually that astray from party stances or those of his opponents, but hasn’t he dealt more damage to the Republican Party than Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders did to the Democratic Party? With this in mind, I asked myself, why wasn’t there more dissent and protest at the RNC for other candidates?
Here lies a ‘non-problem’ facing the GOP. It’s a problem because the Republican has nominated a damning candidate to run on their ticket and the rest of the party has simply fallen in line with little to no attempts to combat this disastrous circumstance. Hence, it is simultaneous a ‘non-problem’ for the same reason. Regardless of how bad of a candidate Donald Trump is and how much damage he has dealt to the Republican Party as an institution, Republican voters have committed to still vote for him and will put up a strong fight to get him into the White House.
This occurrence could represent two different things for the future of the party – although they’re not mutually exclusive concepts. One, it could mean that there has been a fundamental change in the ‘Republican’ base and the party will look increasingly like Trump in future cycles and never return to the traditional conservative nature that has constituted half of the American political system since the Reagan era. And/or, two, it could mean that the Republican Party has fundamental institutional flaws and has no ability to filter their candidates or respond to the needs of their drifting base.
In either scenario, 2020 will be a different universe for the Republican Party. It will be fascinating to see what the party does to change their prospects down the line, or if they just disintegrate altogether.