Super Tuesday, in which there are 12 simultaneous state primaries, was a massive victory for Republican front runner Donald Trump. Trump came out with 319 delegates; Ted Cruz with 226; Marco Rubio with 110; John Kasich with 25; and Ben Carson with eight. This has many Republicans worried that they may no longer be capable of stopping Trump from receiving the party nomination. The questions are as follows: why is Trump seemingly unbeatable, who is left besides Trump (who is actually relevant), can they beat him, and how? Is it true that one can’t “stump the Trump” or can the GOP still “dump the Trump”?
Donald Trump: Trump embodies a new kind of political beast on the right wing. At first glance, most would pass him off as another Tea-Party candidate, as like many Tea-Party politicians, he reflects the disenfranchisement and anger that many voters feel in response to “status quo” politicians, but when it comes to his actual policy positions, he is not so easily categorized.
Trump is best described as a nativist. According to Webster Dictionary “nativism” is defined as “a policy of favoring native inhabitants as opposed to immigrants” as well as “the revival or perpetuation of an indigenous culture especially in opposition to acculturation”. Unlike the Tea-Party Republican, Trump is not trying to merely “get government out of the way” in terms of economic regulation, taxes, etc. Rather, Trump wants to align government with the “native” culture. Undoubtedly, many of his policy goals overlap with the Tea-Party, but the emphasis is different. There is an emphasis on preserving the predominant culture wholesale rather than just supporting some aspects of its value system (e.g. Judeo-Christian values). This is why Trump places so much emphasis on deporting illegal immigrants, building a wall on the Mexican border, raising tariffs on foreign exports and reassessing free-trade deals as well as making wild suggestions such as Muslims being required to have special identification.
The New Yorker puts this new interty in perspective: “the past forty years, the GOP has been an uneasy alliance of social conservatives, free-market conservatives, and corporate interest groups, with the latter largely dictating economic policy. Trump has been drawing on a base of alienated white working-class and middle-class voters, seeking to remake the GOP into a more populist, nativist, avowedly protectionist, and semi-isolationist party that is skeptical of immigration, free trade, and military interventionism”.
Trump’s nativism has managed to pull many disenfranchised voters from the right as well as many from the political left. He represents disenfranchised, culturally conservative blue collar workers who feel betrayed by both parties: by the Democrats for culture “betrayal”, such as supporting abortion or amnesty for illegal immigrants, and the Republicans for economic positions that erode working class jobs at home.
Ted Cruz: Ted Cruz is the perfect embodiment of the Tea-Party. He is an evangelical, vehemently pro-capitalist and anti-government conservative. The Tea Party is strange in that it seems to court what may seem to be contradictory positions at times – it plays to anti-government libertarian ideals yet, at times, favors socially regulative policy that is in line with traditional Christian values. Hence, many Tea Partiers are strongly anti-marijuana, anti-gay marriage, and anti-science when theory comes into conflict with belief (e.g. evolution, etc.). Ted Cruz must walk the tenuous line between being the “liberty candidate” (a title his campaign has tried to take up since Rand Paul’s dropout) and at the same time, the crusader of American Christian faith.
Cruz has done inconceivably well, especially for someone who is loathed by both opponents on the left of the political spectrum and colleagues within his own party. Even so, Cruz has managed to muster up the most evangelical support and has even attracted many individuals who are very libertarian-minded when it comes to economic policy, as they are likely turned off by both Trump’s protectionist policies as well as support for sustaining some social programs and possibly raising political stances – not anymore.
Many supporters of Trump are religious but not to the level of zealotry found in the Cruz camp. These everyday working class individuals are (for the most part) Christian in so far as they are culturally Christian. These individuals are also concerned with a whole range of other cultural conflicts that go beyond the religious. A RealClearPolitics article points out that most Republicans and Democrats play to the “typically shoe-horned… white/nonwhite, rich/poor, religious/secular divides that receive so much attention” yet “most of these splits are in many ways derivative of the cosmopolitan/traditionalist split”. The traditionalist camp that the article speaks of, and is presumably pro-Trump, is not concerned with policing the world and domestic morality as much as they are concerned with what they consider to be the general erosion of their culture as a whole. For Trump supporters, Cruz and his Tea Party affiliates are too concerned with particular issues rather than broader cultural ones.
Marco Rubio: The only real relevant establishment Republican left – and even for some establishment Republicans, he leans a little too far to the right. Rubio embodies the ideals of smaller, but not microscopic, government, pro-business policies in tandem with moderate social programs and an aggressive moralistic foreign policy. His underwhelming performance on Super Tuesday was a shock to many. He is without a doubt the Republican establishment’s top choice. The Miami Herald notes that “Sen. Rubio’s support among party leaders and the faithful makes him the best choice to unite a fractured GOP. His Senate colleagues, especially Republicans, respect him… Sen. Rubio is by far the favorite, suggesting that he is the candidate of choice for the most thoughtful.”
One would expect that this primary season would be a fight between a farther right candidate and a more moderate establishment one. Yet, Rubio’s placing in third shows how internally fragmented the Republican Party is. There is no enthusiasm for the establishment – as the failure of Mitt Romney showed in 2012, as well as the abysmal performance in this election cycle of Jeb Bush who was expected to be a top contender for the Republican nomination.
The Republican Party finds itself in an awkward place. The majority of the party leadership do not want a Trump presidency, not only because he doesn’t line up with them ideologically, but also because they’re not confident that he could win the general election. Yet, the same thing goes for Cruz – he seems unelectable. In fact, Cruz has had so much conflict with party colleagues that many have suggested they would rather support Trump. Now the problem with Rubio is, the actual voters in the primary and general Conservative base don’t seem to care much for him. If Cruz was to drop out, many of his supporters would likely gravitate to Trump over Rubio. The energy that Trump (and to some extent Cruz) stir up motivates individuals to go out and vote but may drive more moderate Conservatives or independents into the hands of the Democrats. While a more moderate Republican like Rubio may appeal to larger range of voters, such a candidate may fail to motivate potential voters to go out and actually vote.
An article in The National Review cites the work of Jim Campbell of the University at Buffalo whose data based research reinforces this strategic conflict Republicans face, between going for swing voters or “energizing the base”. His work shows that “since 1972, the vast majority of winning presidential candidates could have lost the swing vote ‘by a landslide’… and still won the popular vote. He argues that it’s actually base voters who decide elections, meaning that candidates can win nationwide ‘with only a relatively small share of the swing vote.’”
But, the big question is not how the Republican party wants to go about winning the White House. The real question is, how will this identity crisis be resolved and will this election serve to crystallize a new identity for the GOP? What values does the GOP want to embody? Do they want to retain a neoconservative and relatively moderate identity, or become a pro-business party of evangelicals – or possibly a party of unchecked nativism. There is little time left to decide.
Assistant External News Editor