Donald Trump has made it clear from the beginning that he’s in it to win it. He has said that if he ends up losing the presidential race it will all have been for nothing: “If I don't go all the way, and if I don't win, I will consider it to be a total and complete waste of time, energy, and money.”
For what it is worth, I think he’s right.
Men wiser than I have suggested that even if Trump loses, the Republican Party and the nation will have been transformed:
Patrick J. Buchanan: “Trump's nomination represents . . . a repudiation of much of post-Cold War party dogma. . . . Even should Trump lose, there is likely no going back. Does anyone think that if Trump loses, we are going back to Davos-Dubai ideology, and Barack Obama's Trans-Pacific Partnership is our future? Even Hillary Clinton has gotten the message and dumped TPP. Economic nationalism is the future.”
Scott McConnell: “Trump’s weaknesses as a candidate, well known to everyone, may keep him from winning. But his run will change the nature of the GOP, and it is very hard to see how the old GOP elites and neoconservative establishment will put the lid on the aspirations Trump has unleashed, in this election cycle or those to come.”
Leon Hadar: “If Trump loses, a Republican political entrepreneur searching for ways to revive the GOP should try to refashion Trumpism—not as a white ethno-nationalist ideology, but as a new and inclusive political movement along the lines of a New Nationalism, an American Gaullism, or a modified version of globalism that places the national interest at its center.”
If the worst happens on November 8, I really do hope they are right. But I fear they are not.
This election is for all the marbles. This moment for America, not to mention the GOP, may not come again anytime soon, if ever.
Sure, if Trump loses—I don’t think he will, but “if”—the grandees of the Republican Party will fault him personally. Even more will they blame Trump’s defeat on his deviations from neoconservative-globalist orthodoxies about immigration, trade, and war. A vengeful donor class will seek to banish to perpetual outer darkness Trump’s heresies from the respectable Republican catechism by instituting structural “reforms” to make sure this never, ever happens again. The oligarchy that got sucker-punched by Trump will not twice make the mistake they made this cycle of letting a blaspheming infidel slip into the sacred precincts. As National Review #NeverTrump-er Kevin Williamson has suggested, “the Democratic party and its undemocratic ‘superdelegate’ system sure is looking smart right about now.”
In a similar vein, witness a recent “small gathering of influential conservative and libertarian leaders who came together for three days to imagine a ‘more evolved’ version of right-wing politics,” after the hoped-for Trump loss to Hillary Clinton (as described by participant Steve McIntosh of the Institute for Cultural Evolution):
“The group included distinguished author Charles Murray, Republican gay rights activist Margaret Hoover, and anti-tax icon Grover Norquist. Also present were prominent libertarians, right-leaning political scientists, and numerous Republican media personalities. And while we did not reach a clear consensus on the ‘future of the right, we did find remarkable agreement around the potential for a revitalized center-right coalition that could offer a viable alternative to unprincipled right-wing populism.
“By the end of the three-day meeting, many were optimistic that a fresh kind of conservative and libertarian politics will rise from the ashes of Trump’s impending loss. The group was excited by the possibility of a new American right that could be ‘radically innovative and radically inclusive.’ We agreed that a key strength of the right is found in its championing of entrepreneurial innovation and the values of personal and economic liberty. And this same spirit of creative innovation can be used to craft positive proposals for market-based healthcare reform and a meritocratic immigration policy.
“By freeing itself from the backward-looking concerns of nativists, Tea Partiers, and some religious conservatives, this emerging center-right coalition could embrace political issues currently owned by the left—issues such as income inequality, environmentally friendly energy policy, immigration reform, and even a conservative plan for affordable health care. By advancing solutions to these issues that are primarily market-based, and thus more acceptable to conservative and libertarian sensibilities, this center-right political alliance could make progress in areas that are currently stymied by hyper-partisan polarization.
“Moreover, by working to restate the platform of the American right to make it more socially liberal, even while it remains fiscally conservative, this emerging center-right coalition could also attract a politically significant number of millennial voters who would help make up for the loss of social conservatives in the Republican base.”
In short, the “New Republican Party” advocated by these lofty intellects would not only jettison the GOP’s most reliable, socially conservative base, it would double down on rejecting precisely the populist economic agenda for which Trump is the standard-bearer.
To be sure, if Trump loses, there will be an enraged backlash against #NeverTrump backstabbers who saddled America with President Hillary. While some of this would be from “party regulars” who just hate losing (though you’d think they would be used to it by now), the bulk would be ordinary citizens, many of them not self-defined Republicans.
Still, populists/nationalists would probably lose a contest for control of the party. Arrayed against them, the “New Republicans” would likely prevail for three reasons:
They would have lots and lots of money at their disposal. Duh.
They would not be blindsided as they were in this election. Trump only got this far because an establishment thoroughly alienated from its voter base never saw it coming. (Their error was comparable to David Cameron’s miscalculation that he could defang the Euroskeptics once and for all by allowing them a referendum and then beating them.) But their eyes sure are open now.
They would not be facing Trump, who was able to prevail because of his celebrity status and independent wealth, without either of which he would not now be the nominee. Plausible populist champions with both of those qualities do not grow on trees.
This is not to discount the rising tide of populism and nationalism that Trump has set loose, which in similar form is sweeping Europe. It is only to suggest that a post-Trump Republican Party is unlikely to be the vehicle for that movement. And because of the lock the two established parties have on the U.S. electoral system, a third party based on Trump-style populism can’t successfully compete in the manner the Eurocrat establishment is being challenged from both the right and the left by groups like UKIP (Britain), the National Front (France), PEGIDA, Alternative für Deutschland (Germany), Movimento Cinque Stelle (Italy), Partij voor de Vrijheid (Netherlands), SYRIZA (Greece), Podemos (Spain), and others.
Thus, if the donors successfully reestablish their hold on the GOP and move it in the direction of a “revitalized center-right coalition” purged of hated “unprincipled right-wing populism,” the latter will essentially become a sullen, politically disenfranchised, demographically shrinking rump, at least at the national level.
Which of course would be just fine with the aspirant “New Republican Party” freed from those loathsome nativists, Tea Partiers, and religious conservatives. A restored GOP establishment, reveling in Trump’s defeat, would be more than happy to play second fiddle to a permanently dominant Democratic Party, with which they share both a consensus on policy fundamentals and donor interests.
Take one example: the threat of Islamic terrorism is central to Trump’s immigration views and his “Make American Safe Again” plank. As we await the next, inevitable attack inside our borders, we increasingly are supposed to accept that even here in our own home the “new normal” is that we are rabbits hunted by human wolves (gratuitously imported ones at that), and that we can only be relatively safe by cowering behind elaborate security measures. Under the GOP-Democrat duopoly the U.S. government—indeed all western governments and international organizations, like the useless and dangerous NATO—have failed in their most basic duty, that of protecting the lives and safety of their citizens.
No less than Obama (and of course anyone named “Clinton”) a restored Republican establishment would be unable and unwilling to fix the deficiencies we see. They are the wrong human material. They are incapable of instituting the measures needed to detect and uproot the wolves from the larger societies in which they are lurking, or even to exclude them from the U.S. in the first place. Besides launching new misadventures abroad, they would rather screw down surveillance-state security measures—militarization of police, wholesale data collection, gutting the Second Amendment (approved by Hillary-appointed justices)—on everyone regardless of national origin, religion, age, or sex than profile actual or potential jihadists, bar or deport sharia and caliphate activists, stop the migrant influx, and of course cease supporting jihadists in Syria and elsewhere who share the same Wahhabist ideology as those committing attacks at home. Such “leaders” are more concerned about possibly being called “racists” than about endangering their own citizens. In the end they have more in common morally with the terrorists than with the interests and values of ordinary Americans, whom they despise as rubes and bigots.
If Trump loses, I am not saying definitively that the “Middle American Radicals” unleashed by Trump will be disempowered, just that that is the likelier outcome.
Conversely, if Trump wins, we won’t have to find out. That would be a far more attractive prospect.
Jim Jatras, a former U.S. diplomat and foreign policy adviser to the Senate GOP leadership, comments on financial and foreign policy topics and on U.S. politics in his publication TheJIM!gram. Tweet him at @JimJatras.