With Ted Cruz’s withdrawal from the race, Donald Trump is now the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party.
Even with the prospect of a contested convention now significantly diminished, the GOP’s problems are far from over. Never before has a political amateur and outsider grabbed a party’s presidential nomination against the wishes of pretty much the entire party leadership.
Since 1984, no candidate for President in the US has won more than 53% of the popular vote in the general election. This is because neither party has nominated someone far outside the mainstream nor had difficulty uniting around its candidate, even after contested primary campaigns such as the one between Obama and Clinton in 2008.
But for the GOP, this year is different in both degree and kind. Trump has run against the Republican Party from the day he announced his candidacy in June 2015.
He undermined attempts to reach out to Hispanic voters with his bigoted comments about Mexico and immigrants, he made barely concealed appeals to white nationalism and racism, he insulted present and past party leaders, he openly rejected many party orthodoxies, and he has questioned the legitimacy of the nomination process among many other transgressions.
Prior to the start of the primary campaigns, 2016 had been forecast as a toss-up election given the positive, but still lukewarm, status of the American economy and President Obama’s job approval ratings. But this toss-up status assumed each party would be united around its candidate. That assumption is no longer valid for the GOP.
Everybody is talking about the protesters burning the American flags and proudly waving Mexican flags. I want America First - so do voters!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 2, 2016
The challenges facing Trump and the party in attempting to build a unified coalition behind him are enormous and plentiful. He has no natural base among the major elements of the GOP coalition — business-friendly moderates, social conservatives and small government conservatives — to build out from. His pastiche of policy proposals, such as they currently stand, cuts across traditional GOP boundaries in haphazard and unpredictable ways.
His anti-immigrant and anti-trade positions place him in direct conflict with the vast majority of the GOP donor class and will make it very difficult to raise the enormous sums required to run a general election campaign. His countless bigoted, misogynistic and ignorant statements will make many GOP leaders, elected officials, campaign professionals and donors hesitant to be associated with him.
There are some tailwinds to offset some of the above challenges. The prospect of another four years locked out of the White House and control of the Supreme Court being up for grabs will be strong motivators towards lining up behind Trump. The visceral, and often irrational, hatred of Hillary Clinton will help push many from the #NeverTrump camp into the #NeverClinton one.
But I suspect this will not be enough to create the kind of party unity that is needed to win a general election in an evenly divided country. There will be those in the 162-year-old GOP who will look beyond November and see the risk of alienating the fastest-growing segments of America – Hispanics, Asians, single women – for decades to come. They will look to the dire results when the California GOP got behind anti-immigrant positions in the 1990s and ended up moving it from a swing state to a deep-blue Democratic one.
Such GOP institutionalists, with an eye towards both history and the future, will resist uniting behind Trump. The absence of party unity, along with Trump’s unprecedented unfavourable ratings, will likely lead to his decisive defeat in November.
James Cahill participates in a weekly podcast on the US election. You can find it here: http://ozpodcasts.com.au/directory/gday-patriots/
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