The Republicans gathered in Cleveland [earlier this month] to ratify the verdict of primary voters and choose Donald Trump as their presidential nominee for 2016.
A last-minute attempt by the “Never Trump” forces to obstruct his nomination was easily overcome when party officials rushed through a voice vote on convention rules. Still, whatever show of unity they manage for the cameras, many Republicans seem to wish that their party would have chosen someone else.
On the eve of the convention, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that only 38 percent of Republican voters were satisfied with Trump, though five in six of them say they’ll vote for him. The same survey showed Hillary Clinton in front of Trump by a 46-41 percent margin among registered voter. Anti-Trump Republicans, the most vocal of which are concentrated in the party “establishment” of officeholders, lobbyists, donors, consultants and commentators, fear a Trump-headed ticket will drag the GOP down in November. ...However, most Republicans, along with their billionaire donors, understand they’re stuck with Trump in November.
Amid all the talk of chaos and crisis at the top of the Republican Party, it’s worth remembering that the Republicans hold their largest majorities in the US House of Representatives and in state legislative seats in almost a century. Even if control of the Senate changes hands after November, the Democrats won’t have enough votes to stop a filibuster. It’s important for the left to understand all the ramifications of this. Even if Trump is beaten badly in November, the Republicans will continue to hold a lot of political power. But even more importantly, they have been able to take the initiative and drag mainstream politics further to the right during eight years of a Democratic president precisely because of their opponents. Most of the discontent in the Republican ranks is directed at Trump himself — that is, at the messenger, rather than his message.
The political pros who perceive that the Republicans’ increasing reliance on a narrowing base of older, affluent white voters doesn’t bode well for future elections may have a point. But for now, Trump won because he advocated positions that are widely supported by the most committed Republicans who vote in party primaries.
A New York Review of Books article makes the point that the opinion polls showed Trump winning overwhelming support from his supporters for his incendiary rhetoric about banning Muslim immigrants from the US, building a wall on the Mexican border and deporting the undocumented. But Republicans who voted for other candidates in the primaries supported these same positions by wide majorities, too. … The platform adopted by delegates at the start of the Republican convention this year is even more right wing that the one passed in 2012 — it endorses Trump’s border “wall” and calls for a reversal of the Supreme Court decision legalising same-sex marriage. Why is this?
Certainly the influence of the Trump campaign is partly responsible. But it might also be that Republicans feel there is no reason to change course from a strategy that has generally produced success for them. Trump faces an uphill battle against Hillary Clinton, to say the least. With significant sections of the capitalist class abandoning their loyalty to the Republicans and coming out for Clinton, he could indeed suffer a historic defeat, and that would certainly have some effect on elections for other offices this November and after. But there are other factors at work.
One is the fact that the Democrats are nominating a presidential candidate who champions a status quo that is stirring discontent among millions of people. If Donald Trump is the most unpopular candidate of a mainstream party in memory, Hillary Clinton is a not-so-distant second, including among Democratic base voters. That doesn’t bode well for the kind of enthusiastic Democratic turnout that would be necessary to shift the balance even in the Senate, much less in the US House and state legislatures where Republicans are currently dominant. On the contrary, Clinton’s “I’m not Trump” campaign strategy, while it may be effective in whipping up lesser evilism around the presidential race, will have the effect of squelching hopes and expectations among Democratic voters, which makes it all the more difficult to envision an election sweep that topples GOP control of Congress.
Meanwhile, if Trump loses, his opponents among the Republican leadership will get a chance to put another face on their party... the Republicans could find someone who has the same brazenly right-wing populist politics as Trump, but who won’t be so easily pigeonholed as a reality TV clown. So it’s conceivable, and in fact likely, that some sort of regenerated conservatism--probably exploiting the appeal of Trump’s right-wing populism, but without his baggage — will emerge after the 2016 election, whatever the outcome. That puts a challenge on our side to build a credible left that can offer an alternative. We will need to take on the right wing’s bigotry, nationalism and anti-working class agenda. But part of challenging the right will be confronting and protesting the Democratic Party establishment that has aided and abetted the Republicans in dragging national politics to the right.
• First published by US socialist group International Socialist Organisation in Socialist Worker