Astoundingly, the triumph of Donald Trump is accentuating rather than healing the rifts in the Republican Party.
Instead of millions of Republicans setting aside their differences to unite behind a standard-bearer who they believe represents a healthy alternative to a despised Democrat, the party’s various tribes are increasingly saying that if this is what it means to be a Republican, they don’t want it.
For the past 40 years, the Party has been an awkward amalgamation of anti-abortion, socially conservative evangelicals, low-tax, limited-regulation businessmen and patriotic, pro-gun, tough-on-crime white men. Trump highlighted the concerns of middle and low-income men who blame immigration, international trade and big business for 30 years of job insecurity and dwindling wages. Some of them are traditionally Republican, patriotic, men who liked the way Trump gave voice to politically incorrect feelings they had about Muslims and Hispanics. Others are converted blue-collar Democrats and independents.
Some of those Trump voters may be evangelicals, but social issues don’t drive them the way economic angst does. Their issues are primarily economic and they want to go to war with the businessmen who have bankrolled the party and tolerated social conservatism and closet racism in return for support for the low-tax, low regulation agenda.
They blame Wall Street for the economic troubles they have and they think Trump has a solution. Indeed, his solutions address their concerns. It is plausible that throwing illegal immigrants out of the country would cause massive disruption in many industries and force businesses that wanted to survive to raise wages to hire and train unskilled Americans. It is plausible that a tariff wall would lead some industries to bring work back to the U.S. (although it would probably be performed largely by robots).
The problem is that Trump has very little chance of appealing to the rest of the Republican coalition. As a thrice-married, sometimes bankrupt casino mogul who barely acknowledges the pro-Life movement, he seems unlikely to draw the sometimes insular religious right out to the polls on voting day. He certainly isn’t going to lead a crusade against gay rights or same sex bathrooms. Social-issue voters are likely to stay home in droves.
Except for lower taxes, Trump’s economic nostrums hold little appeal for businessmen. They may prefer his low-key acceptance of gender differences to the position of most other Republican candidates. But they want more international trade so they have cheap products to sell. They want to be able to bring in lots of low-cost programmers from India, because it’s a lot cheaper than retraining American workers whose skills have become outmoded. They want low-skilled immigrants to stay here because they keep a lid on demand for higher wages. And they want predictable economic policies.
Trump has probably gotten some of the tough-on-crime electorate with his tough-on-terror rhetoric. But those who reflexively associate the Republican Party nominee with patriotism will have to recalibrate their beliefs. The draft-dodging Trump has disparaged heroes like John McCain. He has, with justification, pilloried George W. Bush’s Iraq policy. He has pandered to Putin while disparaging traditional allies. He appears to be trying to appeal to those voters by promising to improve the shabby treatment of veterans while pulling back from overseas engagement.
Among elected officials, Republicans have many pragmatic politicians who manage to paper over the differences among the three legs of the Republican electoral triad -- evangelicals, businessmen and patriots. But Trump has managed to accentuate the points of division. .