Originally published on the Star Tribune Blog.
Donald Trump was never a strong contender to begin with. In fact, he’s been one of the most disliked presidential candidates in history.
But after two mediocre debate performances, scandals that have encouraged even John McCain to distance himself, and only a month left in the election cycle (thank God), his chances aren’t looking great. Moderates, independents, and even mainstream Republicans are leaving in droves, leaving the new political segment on the block, the alt-right, as his sole consistent support.
What does this mean for the GOP? Where could they possibly go from here? Having just two political parties brings some balance to American politics. It’s not a perfect system, but having two opposing parties helps split the power, where as solely one or the other would prove disastrous. By splitting the power, they’re forced to at least work together and create legislation that might actually do some good instead of just serving their individual party interests. It should be important to all of us that there’s competition in the political sphere.
So how can the GOP save itself after the 2016 election? First off, it’s important to note that Trump’s nomination is the exception, not the rule. There are still dozens, if not hundreds, of Republican organizations across the country, many of which have chosen not to endorse Trump. In addition, while there’s one major executive position in the nation, there’s a plethora of local, state, and national positions that can be, and are currently, occupied by Republicans. So the party is far from dying. However, it’ll need a little rebranding in preparation for 2020: at this point, no one wants to be the “Party of Trump”.
When the 2016 cycle first got underway, several splits in the party were evident. There were your classic GOPers, like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, pragmatic and experienced, if a little relentless. There were the evangelicals, like Ben Carson. And then the libertarian/ Tea Party Republicans, like Rand Paul. And then, of course, Trump, who appeared seemingly out of nowhere and ended up grabbing the nomination.
Each of these segments represents a direction that the GOP could go. I see two alternatives: either the Republicans realign with the likes of Cruz, McCain, and Rubio, or they move to occupy a space more traditionally held by libertarians.
The former route is well-trod, and would be more comfortable to slide back into. Much of the Republican establishment is already there, reminiscing for the classic conservative days of Barry Goldwater, Phyllis Schafly, and Ronald Reagan, but perhaps still voting GOP: Trump is a deviation, but at least he isn’t Hillary Clinton (how bad is it that your main asset is that you aren’t someone else?). By returning to their well-known environs, the disenfranchised voters of 2016 would be happy to be back. It may even coax some independents for a successful 2020 run at the White House, if the GOP addresses issues well.
Otherwise, the choice is to move into a new ideological space, and become the pro-liberty party. This territory is usually reserved by the Libertarian Party, but many of the views espoused during the debates would fit: more economic freedom, lower taxes, an end to NSA spying on Americans, and greater religious and social freedom. Positions like ending wars in the Middle East and stifling American imperialism abroad would even stand in contrast to both current GOP platforms and Clinton’s actions as Secretary of State and Obama’s as President. Granted, this would require an ideological shift which is not likely, but that may be for the better: millennials and others who break with the GOP on social issues and foreign policy would be better served, which could capture a large segment currently supporting Hillary largely because she isn’t Trump.
The last choice, of course, is to do nothing. But come November, voters that have jumped off the Trump Train probably won’t vote for Clinton. Instead, they’ll either stay home or vote third party.
Thanks to an obscure FEC rule, if a third party can get just 5% of the popular vote in a presidential election, they can be awarded federal funding for the next cycle, effectively propelling them to “major party” status. Already Gary Johnson is seeing unprecedented support, and disillusioned GOPers will only continue to contribute.
But a strong Libertarian Party is more likely to compete with the GOP than the Democrats. The Republicans can either take this as a threat or an opportunity to reach out and reform, drawing new votes and creating a party ready to balance out the Democrats in the 21st century.