Waterloo? The apocalypse? The Titanic? These are just some of the terms that some journalists, political pundits and ordinary people are employing as they describe the current state of the Republican party. Indeed, for many people, from the casual observer to consummate political insiders, there is a deep seeded sentiment that the party of Abraham Lincoln is coming apart at the seems and is imploding at Armageddon like speed.
The fact is that talk of political parties facing impending doom is nothing new. Similar rhetoric was levied toward the democratic party in the 1980s after the party had endured multiple consecutive losses at the presidential level, including a massive 49 state route in 1984. Needles to say, such a misguided prediction failed to reach fruition as the party (democratic) recaptured the White House in 1992 under the leadership of Bill Clinton and managed to occupy a sizable number of congressional seats for much of the decade. Such fear was obviously unfounded. That being said, it does appear that at the current moment, the republican party does seem to be engaging in a level of infighting and dysfunction that has even the most cynical observers stepping back and taking notice.
What is even more striking (or amusing) depending on your point of view, is the fact that rather than looking inward to find the root of such problems, many members of the party establishment seem to be looking for scapegoats. President Obama, radical leftists, Donald Trump, Darth Vader, Frankenstein, you name it, in their eyes, the rapid unraveling of the republican party is the fault of everyone else but the GOP itself. Of all the supposed suspects, Donald Trump is the leading contender that arouses the ire of many loyal GOP establishment voters. He is the epitome of the great Satan who has managed to arrogantly and deviously infiltrate the party and wreck unprecedented havoc within its ranks.
His most recent, disturbing comments in regards to abortion, his galling level of sexism, (including his attacks on one his opponent's wife) and brazenly discussing how he would handle nuclear weapons if he needed to do so, has sent the GOP base (and many non-republicans) for that matter, into a hissyfit of epidemic proportions. His latest gaffes have even prompted bombastic, radical conservative right wing, pundit and trump supporter, Ann Coulter to label Trump as the "mental" candidate. While Donald Trump has served as a sort of ruthless, callous villain that has cause a segment of the republican party to either cry out in blood curling pain or curl up in the fetal position out of fear, the cold , hard reality is that the current dilemma that republicans are facing is that the problem lies within the party itself. Period.
Many of the party's problems are due to the frustration of the party's base. Poll after poll indicates that a considerable co-hort of the party base has expressed widespread discontent with its leadership, feeling that the party does not represent their interests. Here in Tennessee where I live, 58% of GOP voters said that they were disappointed by party leaders. 47% of New Hampshire voters expressed similar sentiments. In South Carolina and Ohio, 52 and 54% of voters felt likewise. For these rank and file voters, the problem lies within. As they see it, the party itself, bears the blame.
It should come as no surprise that such disaffected voters, many of whom harbor very conservative, indeed, reactionary views, on many social and cultural issues would find the vehemently racist, sexist, and xenophobic rhetoric that has come from the mouth of Donald Trump very appealing. The fact is that Trump is speaking their language. He generously throws out the fresh red meat and employs the not so subtle dog whistles to a disaffected base of voters who contain a deep seeded level of anger, resentment and frustration due to the fact that they largely feel economically, socially and educationally marginalized. It is a sad commentary but it is the truth.
The commonality that these voters share with the larger GOP base is the belief that they are under the illusion or rather delusion that their faults are the problems of non-Whites, feminists, immigrants, gays and lesbians, in some cases, Jews, Muslims and all others who do fall within a White, christian conservative category of what they believe o be "real Americans." In their minds, such groups are the outsiders who are the cause of America's decline. They are seen as evil, the other, and must be taken care of in one manner or another. These is the demographic of men and women who see Trump as their savior as he promises to "take back America." To be sure, some Trump supporters are disaffected people whose lives have been deeply affected by radical economic transformations in society.
Neo-liberalism, globalization outsourcing, stagnant wages, limited economic mobility have had a dramatic effect on the livelihood of these men and women. However, the fact is that such undeniable factors have affected many of same groups of people they blame for their current predicament. Rather than being cognizant of this fact, it appears to be easier to revert to a "it's their fault, not mine" mentality. The larger republican party seems to have taken this position as well. Such a stance could lead to the party eventually finding itself relegated to the political wilderness for quite some time.
Elwood Watson, Ph.D. is Professor of History, African American Studies and Gender Studies at East Tennessee State University.