As a moderate Millennial, ambivalent of party affiliation, I have tried to combat the ‘the sky is falling’ rhetoric of my frantic liberal peers seeking to resist the “normalization” of President Trump. I thoughtfully reasoned that our system was structured in such a way to check the ambitions of a demagogue like Trump and that the checks and balances on the Presidency would prove too powerful for Trump to do real damage; “Congress would never get on board with this,” “Even the Republican state houses would reject that,” or “Paul Ryan couldn’t possibly allow this,” I would confidently tell myself over and over again as Trump signed one absurd executive order after the other.
Well, it turns out, I, like many other optimistic analysts, was dead wrong. The Republican Party has almost unanimously embraced the unpopular demagogue as the face of their party, prompting the question… Why? Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that Republicans have a secure grip on power for the foreseeable future, and that the party is more concerned about alienating Trump’s base than building a party that will be successful in the future.
The implications of this reality are just now starting to become obvious as the Republican-controlled Congress refuses to challenge the White House. Just today, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chair of the House Oversight Committee announced that he would not be investigating Michael Flynn, whose resignation has stirred up spurs of questions regarding ethics violations; some have even accusing the short-lived National Security Advisor of treason. Further evidence is found in the embrace of blatantly unqualified candidates nominated to Cabinet positions including Betsy DeVos, who was confirmed despite butchering her nomination hearing, and Rick Perry who now heads the department he once proposed abolishing when running for President in 2012. Republicans easily could have demanded that qualified conservatives be nominated to hold these posts, instead they were silent.
Perhaps even more troubling than the cabinet selections is the party’s embrace of Trump’s controversial executive orders, namely the Trump Travel Ban, ruled unconstitutional in the courts. Paul Ryan publicly supported the ban, despite his condemnation during the 2016 presidential campaign, previously reasoning, “I do not think it is reflective of our principles, not just as a party, but as a country.” Unless Paul Ryan’s principles magically changed overnight (perhaps due to the Bowling Green Massacre), clearly the political ambitions of the Republican Party have drastically changed. They are no longer resisting the bigotry; instead, they are embracing it for short-term political gain.
The only reasonable explanation for this flip-flop and surrender of Republican principles is that the Republican Party is secure in its hold on power. The grim political reality is that Democrats are defending 25 of the 33 Senate seats up for reelection in the 2018 midterms. Ten of these seats are in swing states that Trump carried in 2016, opening the door for Republicans to win a filibuster proof majority. On top of that, due to the structural advantages for Republicans brought about with voter ID laws and redistricting, Democrats would need a miracle to take back the House. As a result, the Republicans do not need to cater to public opinion until 2020, which is a lifetime in American politics.
I wrote in a previous piece during the election cycle that I believed the Republican Party, by nominating and supporting Donald Trump, was no longer a partner in the pursuit of creating a more just society. This has been proven all too real with the party’s embrace of, now President, Trump. The party’s shallow, nationalistic, agenda is not sustainable. Policies like building a wall on the Mexican border will bear little fruit if ever accomplished. Similarly, the repeal of Obamacare, without a sustainable replacement, will hurt people and alienate voters. In the end, I still believe that Donald Trump will never be able to make America great again in the way that he promised his voters.
Once the Trump era inevitably closes, the Republican Party could be in ruins for a generation. Young voters, who are the most vocal opponents of Trump, are only going to be more alienated by the Republican Party if they continue supporting his policies. The only chance the Republicans have in the long term is to hold Trump accountable, challenge his unreasonable policy objectives, and reclaim the Republican principles that used to attract broad segments of the population.
Nevertheless, the Republican establishment clearly needs some convincing. The Women’s March and spontaneous protests in airports across the country in response to the travel ban are an inspiring start, but more work is to be done if the Republicans are to be convinced to switch course. The Republicans must either fear losing Congress in 2018 or be forced to think more about what is in the long-term interest of the party. If not, Congress will continue to cater to the Trump base instead of the majority of Americans who did not vote for him.
Americans dissatisfied with President Trump must continue demanding accountability from Republican Representatives and Senators by attending town halls, calling district offices, posting on social media, and encouraging others to do the same. New organizational efforts, such as Swing Left, have potential to mobilize the outrage surrounding Trump into tangible electoral results in 2018 and to convince Republicans to change course, but they will only bear fruit if people continue to stay engaged.