Win or lose, Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential run has ignited a civil war inside the Republican Party. The GOP now finds itself navigating a perilous course as Trump’s ultra-nativist forces prepare for an all-out fight for control of the GOP.
Should Trump lose, a breakaway movement to form America’s first mass right-wing nationalist organization is a very real possibility. Either way, the GOP as we know it will not likely survive the 2016 elections.
Trump’s angry legions of mostly white, older, less educated and moderate income Middle Americans may best be characterized as the “White Lives Matter” (WLM) movement. The 2016 elections mark the showdown with the GOP establishment they’ve long waited for.
Feeling that America no longer works for them, WLM has gone on the offensive against the federal government, corporations, banks, globalization, the media and immigrants that represent a clear and present danger to their way of life.
While the nation and the Republican establishment are reeling at WLM’s meteoric rise, the insurgents are brimming with confidence and swag. They should be for two reasons; history and charismatic leadership are leaning in their direction.
Processing revolts of angry whites with WLM’s demographic footprint is nothing new for the GOP. In 1968, Republicans converted Gov. George Wallace’s states’ rights, segregationist presidential supporters into a solid GOP voting bloc in the south.
But 2016 will be different. WLM has absorbed the lessons of the post-1990 revolts against the GOP establishment. That historical reference not only informs their disdain for compromise, but has strengthened their resolve.
This time WLM will not cave in to establishment presidential candidates like McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012. Unlike Ross Perot’s reform movement, their political agenda won’t be coopted as the GOP did with the 1994 Contract with America.
Buoyed by Trump’s presidential poll position, uncompromising tone, media star power and deep pockets, WLM has the strategic depth to prosecute the fight all the way to the Republican convention and beyond. By funding his own campaign and condemning Super PACS as the fount of corruption, Trump has emerged as WLM’s noble crusader who won’t sell out to the establishment they despise.
WLM’s litany of grievances is substantial, but their rage is primarily driven by their economic marginalization in the “new economy.” Since the Great Recession ended in 2009, real median household income has remained almost $4,000 below pre-recession levels and 1999 income levels.
And while the U.S. economy has grown, WLM has slipped further and further behind. When Obamacare tried to siphon off $500 billion of Medicare benefits to help cover health insurance for non-citizens and the foreign born, WLM activists who depend on government entitlements chomped at the bit.
WLM also fear globalization. They distrust corporations that transferred hundreds of thousands of American jobs overseas. Worse still, they dread the future. The speed that technology continuously transforms the work place has outpaced their ability to upgrade their educational and job skills. Especially for the less well educated, WLM’s economic instability and uncertainty about the future has pushed suicide and drug addiction to new levels.
Above all, it is immigration that animates WLM’s intense hated of the Republican Party establishment. WLM feels they are losing the competition for critical federal assistance payments to immigrants-legal and illegal.
They want birthright citizenship ended and the wall on America’s southern border completed now to stop illegal immigration from Mexico. Where WLM erred was believing the Republican Party shared their views.
After Mitt Romney’s presidential defeat in 2012, Republican leaders and top donors gathered to craft a new strategy to take back the White House. The GOP has lost four of the last six presidential races. At issue was the Republicans capacity to expand beyond its white core constituency or risk political insolvency.
Accordingly, the 2012 Growth and Opportunity Report stated that “Among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform.” Conservative luminaries like Sean Hannity, Rupert Murdock, Charles Krauthammer and financial powerhouse Sheldon Adelson all sang the praises of the report. For WLM it was the last straw; the civil war had begun.
Whether WLM was naïve, or simply ignorant of corporate America and the Chamber of Commerce’s long-standing support of open immigration policies remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the GOP report and the subsequent push by the Senate “Gang of Eight” to pass an immigration reform bill became the focus on intense opposition.
Beyond immigration, the GOP establishment had other scores to settle; namely prosecuting a rearguard action to knock the Tea Party back into line. The GOP machine wanted to exact a pound of flesh after stalwart senators Richard Lugar, Bob Bennett and Charlie Christ were taken down by Tea Party renegades in 2010.
It wasn’t until Congress voted on October 16, 2013 to lift the debt ceiling and reopen the federal government that the GOP establishment claimed the Tea Party “fever is broken.” But reports of the Tea Party’s demise were greatly exaggerated. In 2014, House Majority Leader Eric Canter was torpedoed in the Republican primary. A year later John Boehner was chased from the House Speaker’s chair.
The GOP establishment’s position on immigration and campaign of retribution against Tea Party activists had created a rebellion in search of a leader. Thus, when candidate Trump, blasted Mexican illegals as rapists, drug dealers and murderers, WLM sprang to life.
Since June 2015, Trump has been on a roll. His call to deport 12 million illegals was only the beginning. The ISIS inspired Paris and San Bernardino terrorist attacks not only poured more fuel on the fire, but gassed up Trump’s image as the defender of America against foreign hordes bent on her destruction.
In calling for a national registry of Muslims, banning all non-American Muslims from entering the country and suggesting he’d kill family members of suspected terrorists, Trump deliberately pushed WLM’s agenda beyond constitutional legality.
On every issue from his protectionist trade policy to isolationist criticism that U.S. intervention in Iraq wasted $2 trillion that could have been used to create American jobs, Trump’s message is narrowly tailored to address WLM’s economic anxiety.
It is also no accident that Trumps political lexicon is laced with power connotations. His adversaries are all “weak,” lack “toughness” or are “low-energy.” He, on the other hand is a man of strength and action. He’s not going to defeat ISIS, he’s going to “bomb the s_ _ _ out of ISIS.” His insulting remarks against women and the disabled are part of a well-orchestrated war against political correctness.
Trump understands that culture and language, not policies, are the sharpest weapons of criticism in a civil war. His attack on political correctness is a green light to WLM that they don’t have to conceal their angst about being white and being left behind by the government and the GOP. They are heeding the message.
Most of all, Trump understands that WLM requires a strongman—a maximum leader. Donald Trump is not simply building a base of support to win a presidential campaign. Unwittingly or not, he’s building a predominantly white political army that bears all the hallmarks of a nascent totalitarian movement.
WLM’s bolt into the political mainstream may be new to America; it is however not unique to America. In Germany, France and Britain right-wing nativist movements are on the rise; all spurred by an anti-immigrant backlash sweeping over Europe.
Speculation about how the GOP will stop, co-opt or embrace Donald Trump will undoubtedly dominate the headlines from now until the Republican convention in Cleveland. Whether he prevails or not, WLM, by any name, will likely become an enduring political feature in America’s body-politic.