The latest Huffington Post Poll of Polls estimates that three "outsider" Republican presidential candidates (Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Donald
Trump) account for more than 50 percent of primary votes. We're witnessing a civil war within the GOP. Is this the end of the Republican Party?
In the most recent Real Clear Politics 2016 Republican presidential nomination summary, Donald Trump has an aggregate 27.2 percent, followed by Ben Carson at 21.3 percent, and in sixth place Carly Fiorina with 5.5 percent; the three outsider candidates have 54 percent of the vote. (Adding in maverick Senator Ted Cruz the outsiders have 62 percent.) Obviously, GOP voters want to elect a candidate who is not part of the Republican establishment.
Grassroots Republicans are revolting. Does this mean the GOP is finished?
The party is barreling towards chaos. Writing in The New York Times, Republican insider Peter Wehner observed, "Republicans prefer an outsider to a candidate with experience in the political system by a 24-point margin (60 to 36)." He attributed the frustration of the GOP grassroots to a series of disappointments. The first was President Obama's reelection, "The fact that he easily won... was a huge psychological blow to Republicans." The second has been the failure of the GOP congressional majority to "rein in" President Obama: "Many on the right refuse to recognize the institutional constraints that prevent lawmakers from doing what they want them to do, which is use their majority status in Congress to reverse the early achievements of the Obama presidency." The third is a profound sense of failure, "a widespread sense of doom," the feeling they've lost the country. (Wehner observed that Trump gives voice to this GOP gloom with his campaign line, "the American dream is dead.")
We're witnessing a profound conflict between the Republican establishment (the insiders) and their most ardent constituents (the outsiders). In Wehner's words, "The struggle within the Republican Party right now centers on those who... want to rebuild the village and those who want to burn it down."
This shouldn't come as a surprise. For the last 25 years, the GOP has been a volatile coalition. Pew Research Center described three red groups: "steadfast conservatives" about 15 percent of registered voters, "business conservatives" about 12 percent of registered voters, and "young outsiders' about 15 percent of registered voters (Some call the "young outsiders" Libertarians as they have conservative views on government but not on social issues.) In 2016, the "steadfast conservatives" are the Republican outsiders; the "business conservatives" are the Republican insiders; and the "young outsiders" are split between the two camps.
According to the latest New York Times poll about 21 percent of Americans identify as Tea-Party members; they are the steadfast conservatives in the Pew Research study. There are enough Tea-party voters to control the Republican primary, but not enough to carry a general election. Thus, an outsider candidate, such as Donald Trump, may win the Republican nomination, but suffer a devastating defeat in the general election, because his gloomy message coupled with his misogyny and anti-immigration sentiments will turn off non-conservative voters.
In the 2000 presidential race, Republicans didn't have this problem because George W. Bush appealed to all wings of the party. That was not true in 2008 and 2012 when steadfast conservatives did not favor John McCain and Mitt Romney. This year there's an enormous problem because of the ideological chasm between the insider and outsider candidates.
Donald Trump has suggested that if the Republican Party doesn't treat him fairly, then he will start a third party. Speaking as a liberal Democrat, it would make sense for the Republican Party to split into two wings: the "business as usual" party (insiders) and the "maverick" party (outsiders) -- those who follow Trump.
Overlooking the logistical problems inherent in splitting the Republican Party, the practical consideration is that it's unlikely that the presidential candidate of either of the two new parties -- Trump (outsider) or Bush (insider) -- would win the 2016 general election. Moreover, it's unlikely that either of these new parties would win control of either wing of Congress. (The Democrats are likely to win back control of the Senate.) If there were to be three parties, after the 2016 election, the U.S. would be faced with the necessity for a coalition government in the House of Representatives. For example, the new Speaker of the House would have to be elected by a coalition of Democrats and "business-as-usual" insiders, as no party would have a clear majority.
This sounds difficult but it's the situation the House of Representatives is in at the moment. To elect Paul Ryan Speaker of the House, a coalition was formed: "business-as-usual" Republicans plus enough "mavericks" to ensure a majority. Another coalition will be formed to raise the debt ceiling.
Formally splitting the Republican Party into two pieces may not happen soon, but it makes more sense than the current arrangement where the party has two wings with vastly different values and policies.
Happy Halloween! The Republican Party is dead but lives on as a two-headed zombie.