Columns

Meyer ’17: A Trump loss won’t change Republicans

By
Staff Columnist
Friday, October 28, 2016

The next 11 days can’t pass quickly enough. After a miserable, too-long election cycle, the specter of President Donald Trump will (hopefully) be vanquished. We will finally be able to exhale.

But the relief won’t last for long. After the end of this miserable contest, all we have to look forward to is a return to the gridlock that has defined the last six years of the Obama presidency. Disaster may be averted, but there is little cause for hope. The reason is that, despite witnessing the dumpster fire that is the Donald’s campaign, the Republican Party is not going to change.

The conservative punditry has already begun its post-defeat ritual of donning black, holding candlelit vigils at the Reagan Presidential Library and writing think-pieces about fixing the GOP. In the Atlantic, David Frum concluded that the party should “(join) what can usefully be extracted from Trumpism to the core beliefs of the Republican Party: individual initiative, a free enterprise economy, limited government, lower taxes and a proud defense of America’s global role.” Other grey-hairs like George Will and David Brooks have written similar debriefs. The Brown Republicans “are optimistic that the Republican Party will move forward with a renewed commitment to conservative principles.”

We’ve seen this song and dance before. After Mitt Romney lost, the Republicans went through a public autopsy that concluded that they shouldn’t change anything except their intolerant immigration policy. We know the result, too: The party didn’t change anything except make anti-immigrant xenophobia the center of its next presidential campaign. Party elites like Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, were unable to steer the populist horse they were riding.

The problem is that while the national party needs to undergo major changes to win elections, it is not individually rational for Republicans in Congress and in state governments to change their ways. The party has gerrymandered its way to a status quo in which many representatives serve in safe seats where the only challenge can come from the right flank. When getting primaried is a bigger fear than losing the general election, there is no incentive to move to the center.

In the Senate, the GOP may lose its majority, but it will maintain its ability to filibuster whatever it wants. After the 2010 midterms, Republicans showed that the filibuster is all they need to gum up the gears. Hillary Clinton is already reviled by the GOP base, so blocking her will be good politics. If anything, gridlock will probably be worse thanks to the ongoing degradation of unspoken norms of Congress. I wouldn’t assume that Merrick Garland or a Clinton substitute will fly through confirmation after the election. Indeed, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, already promised that the Senate Republicans will try to block Clinton’s nominees.

But the most fundamental reason why the GOP won’t change is because over the past 16 years it has conditioned its supporters to reject compromise, hate rather than dislike its opponents and accept convenient fictions about global warming, supply-side economics and even Benghazi, Libya. The Tea Party and the House Freedom Caucus have collaborated with right-wing news outlets to create a base that is dogmatic, conspiratorial and xenophobic. I don’t mean to imply that most conservatives behave this way, but those terms do fit the party’s base as a whole. Trump’s campaign has reinforced these tendencies, making it harder for the party to hang a U-turn after he goes back to his Tower.

Thanks to its swerve to the obstructionist right, the Republican Party may see a long winter outside the Oval Office. But the nation should brace for the gridlock and acrimony of the past two terms to continue for years. The chickens have come home to roost for the GOP, but now they’re going to shit all over us, too.

Daniel Meyer ’17 can be reached at daniel_meyer@brown.edu.

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