May 29, 2016
The expected nomination of Donald Trump has prompted numerous inquiries or predictions, including this: Is the Republican Party about to collapse or, more generally, will there be a realignment? The imminent demise of the GOP has been predicted periodically for some years, even within the Party. However, Republicans have continued to win elections to Congress, governorships and legislatures. Through gerrymandering and voting restrictions, they have solidified their position. Only the presidency has escaped Republican dominance, and even there they have won five terms out of nine since 1980 (four, if you go by the popular vote). Perhaps major change will occur now. If Trump is nominated, there may be significant desertions — in numbers and prestige — in November, and the split between Trump’s followers and the GOP elite will persist in some degree whether or not he is elected. However, that split, between elite and base, may be no greater now than before; one comment offered this description of Trump’s followers: "Their top worries are terrorism, national security, the economy and the ballooning national debt. . . . In other words: These aren’t just Trump voters, these are today’s Republicans."
Not all is happy among Democrats, either. Their failure to maintain — and deserve — wide support among people of modest income has been a key factor in the Republican rise; compare the period 1932-1976, when Democrats won eight of twelve presidential elections. Thanks to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, some Democrats are returning to the party’s liberal roots. That will not be reflected in this year’s presidential election, assuming Clinton to be the nominee, nor would things change in the short run even if Sanders were elected. As Rick Perlstein puts it, " If, by some miracle, Bernie Sanders entered the White House in January, he would do so naked and alone—in command of a party apparatus less prepared ideologically, institutionally, and legislatively to do great things than at any other time in its history." The liberalizing trend might continue, but a Clinton win in November might reenforce the belief that centrism is the route to victory.We have the odd phenomenon of two candidates who are widely disliked and mistrusted, but in a sense their nomination should not be a surprise: Trump is what has happened to the Republican Party; Clinton is what has happened to the Democrats.
There is talk, probably aimless, of a third party, which could shake out as left-center-right, with moderate Republicans and centrist Democrats forming the middle group. An existing third party could be a rallying point: a leader of the Green Party has made a somewhat condescending pitch to Senator Sanders to join its campaign or, failing that, for his supporters to do so. However, third parties or other protest movements usually aid the opposition. On the same page as the article about the Green Party was one urging Sanders to run as an independent, but that likely would have the same result, and do these people want Trump? The 2000 election wasn’t that long ago. It would be better if the Greens and others on the left were to join and revitalize the Democrats. Probably we will just muddle/stagger along.