What Donald Trump’s Success Says About the State of U.S. Party Politics

During the tail end of the last GOP Debate, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich were lobbed a softball question; “Would you support Donald Trump as the Republican nominee?” All three said yes, too afraid to leave the Republican establishment on a limb, their responses emblematic of a political system in subversion.

Andrew Sabl of The New York Times alluded to this subversion in his Washington Post article, “The Constitution was designed to weed out demagogues. Now it encourages them.” In it, Sabl talks about “the growth of parties and charismatic national candidates” by way of a political system where party strength is more important than actual adherence to party standards.

Courtesy: Mother Jones
Courtesy: Mother Jones

Under this system, Sabl writes, the governing party and “opposition party” would moderate the other through a series of checks and balances. This is not possible, however, if one of the parties lacks the strength to challenge. This strength often comes through explicit refusal to work with the opposing party rather than strong party standards.

“Party standards” are fickle anyway. During last election cycle, for example, the Republican party was grappling with better ways to appeal to Latino voters. Now their leading candidate believes Mexicans are – among other things – criminals.

Instead, it is better to prove party strength through the abstract, the easily accessible. Here is where Donald Trump has capitalized. Running on a platform of platitudes and populist rhetoric, he has accomplished the Republican party’s desired end game while acting in discord with supposed “party standards.” Rather than conduct a prototypical campaign, Trump has run on the populist demagoguery originally thought of as antithetical to the democratic process. His success has sent shockwaves through the Republican establishment, who have regrouped in an attempt to fend off his nomination.

There is a void at the helm, and a desperate search for a party kingpin. Through their unbridled support of the establishment and an unwillingness to act against the invisible hand that misguides them, the three non-Trump candidates abandoned their best chance at individuating themselves from their party’s anti-hero.

Trump will likely be the nominee as the only candidate not beholden to the party whom he supposedly represents. This is not to say he is the authentic, off-the-cuff freewheeler he purports himself to be. Rather, he is the glitch incumbent upon the U.S. political system. His interlocutors never firmly positioned themselves as against his nomination – and the worst part is they had no choice.


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