Trejos: After Trump, GOP can still rebound

Jose Trejos, Columnist

The 2016 presidential election comes to a close today. After the most negative campaign in living memory, most experts predict that a former Secretary of State accused of criminal negligence will triumph over a man who has bragged about sexual assault. As Donald Trump’s political career comes to a close, the greatest question is what direction his party will take following the election.

Many pundits have suggested Trump has so destroyed the reputation of the GOP that it will be doomed in coming years. This position may seem natural in a place like Northwestern, where Trump has been rejected so overwhelmingly by the student population.

In reality, though, Clinton’s massive unpopularity is likely hurting Democrats as much as Trump has hurt Republicans. Clinton may actually take office with a net disapproval rating and persistent criminal allegations from day one. Against a weak president, Republicans will likely see gains in Congress in 2018 and could easily win the presidency in 2020 with a competent nominee. At least for the foreseeable future, this election is not an existential threat to the GOP.

The most relevant questions the GOP’s future involve internal debates about what the party should stand for. The modern Republican Party is an uneasy alliance between religious conservatives, business leaders and working class whites. Trump’s appeal, directed almost exclusively at working-class voters with open hostility toward business leaders, has pushed this relationship to its limit. Additionally, Trump has brought to prominence a racist element of the right wing, which previous nominees had tolerated in the name of electability but certainly never championed. Should Trump’s model be adopted by more Republican leaders, it could forever change the policies of the Republican Party.

Notably, tensions within the GOP are coming to a climax just as the Democratic Party is dealing with its own populist insurrection. Bernie Sanders’ candidacy was based on class-based politics. Yet his proposals were catastrophically flawed to the point that they could be referred to as anti-math, in a manner reminiscent of Trump’s fact-free rhetoric. For a Democratic candidate, Sanders’ support base was also incredibly white and male. Following this election, Trump’s anti-establishment ideology might woo Sanders’ sizeable share of the white vote into the Republican Party. This could win elections for Republicans in the short term, but would be doomed to fail as the country becomes demographically less white.

The alternative for Republicans has been championed by “establishment” politicians for years: Expand the party with moderates and Hispanic voters. It might seem strange that Hispanic voters, who are largely socially conservative and entrepreneurial, vote for the Democratic Party, if not for the vigorous anti-immigration rhetoric employed by many Republicans. Though moving toward the kind of reckless amnesty the Democrats demand is a foolish idea, creating a legal working status like that advocated by Jeb Bush would certainly move the needle among this crucial and growing demographic. From there, an embrace of the common-sense economic ideas and small-government solutions traditionally championed by the Republican Party would easily assemble a winning coalition among the American electorate.

Our leaders and voters must decide which values our political parties represent. The Republican Party must take a stronger stance against populism, perhaps by adopting measures like ranked-choice voting or a superdelegate system like that of the Democratic Party and more aggressively speaking out against populists. Voters must learn to resist the temptations posed by charlatans like Trump and instead vote for real leaders, a responsibility that voters of both parties failed at horrendously this year.

Let us hope that political parties that emerge from the 2016 turmoil will give the American people real leadership, instead of new opportunists to vote against.

Jose Trejos is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.