BY LAUREN JOHNSTON
Following the release of Trump’s tapes, in which Trump boasts about his impunity to “grab [women] by the pussy,” Republican leaders found themselves in a profoundly undesirable position. Their choices: continue to support Trump and prolong the gymnastics they have been performing to support a man who they constantly denounce or throw in the towel, finally, in a last-minute and ultimately hollow bid to distance themselves from the inevitably ugly fallout of Trump’s campaign. Either way, it is hard to say how the party will recover after November.
Those who still endorse Trump—Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz, to name a few—continue to draw ire from the likes of President Obama for their hypocritical stances, who said, “How can you call him a con artist and dangerous and object to all the controversial things he says, and then say, I’m still going to vote for him?”. Certainly, these leaders’ continued support for Trump does not flatter their characters. However, Obama’s condemnation reaches beyond these individuals. It captures, at the deepest level, the existential crisis that the GOP faces: what, exactly, does the party stand for?
In the last forty years or so, the Republican Party has evolved into the purported party of family values and faith. The evolution began in 1976, when the party first adopted its position against abortion. Then, in 1988, right-wing televangelist Pat Robertson became a serious contender for the Republican nomination, and in 1992, the party came out against gay marriage. Today’s Republican Party is staunchly pro-life, anti-gay, and seemingly Christian. Yet, today’s Republican nominee is twice divorced, has referred to communion as “my little wine and my little cracker,” and has put the word “pussy” on the front page of every newspaper. He breaks with Republican convention, not only by disregarding Christian values, but by shattering any image that he stands for even the most basic of family values.
Moreover, and perhaps with greater consequence, Trump flouts his own party’s historical stance on free trade and open borders. For the past fifty years, the Republican Party has stood firmly behind free-trade deals, including NAFTA, which Trump denounces as the “worst trade deal of all time,” and the TPP, which Trump promises to dismantle. Trump’s position on free trade is more than a little hypocritical. He has outsourced jobs to every corner of the globe in his various Trump enterprises. Nonetheless, his stated position against free trade only makes it more awkward for Republican Party elites who support him.
In fact, Trump diverges from GOP ideology in more than just these two areas. For example, whereas Republican leaders wanted to move towards comprehensive immigration reform following the 2012 elections, Trump announced his campaign on the promise of mass deportations and a giant border wall. In addition, whereas the Republican Party has long supported interventionist foreign policy, Trump blames US involvement in the Middle East for creating ISIS. The result is that the Republican base has elected a man who repudiates his own party in nearly every way. He represents, in gaudy orange spray-tanned wrapping, the divorce papers that the Republican base has handed to its leaders.
The uncomfortable position for Republican Party elites like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell is that they have stood, and continue to stand, behind a man that not only spurns their ideology, but who has offended an absurd amount of Americans—perhaps alienating them irrevocably from the Republican Party. The GOP faces a harsh reckoning after the election. Is the party pro-trade or trade protectionist? Is the party going to continue its marriage to the religious right? How is the party going to survive in a heterogeneous society where racist, sexist, and xenophobic rhetoric will only push potential new voters further and further away? Trump’s entrance into American politics has ripped apart the GOP, and it’s nearly impossible to gauge the long-term extent of the damage.