Republican meltdown, Democratic opportunityInderjeet Parmar, City University London
Donald Trump’s decisive victory in the Indiana primary election last night, coupled with the withdrawal of his principal rival, Ted Cruz, has made him the party’s presumptive presidential nominee. It has exposed a deeply divided Republican party whose leadership has lost all credibility and whose conservative philosophy, which it has held dear since 1980, is in tatters. The party’s very survival is now uncertain.
This near-apocalypse has been years in the making. The Tea Party insurgency has badly undermined both state and national party elites, driving the GOP further to the right and electing highly ideological congressmen and senators who refused to compromise with the Obama administration – not least Cruz, who defied the GOP leadership and forced the US government into a total shutdown in 2013.
But this collapse is also the fruit of decades of economic deterioration of the party’s white working-class voters, especially those without a college education. Compounded by the 2008 financial crisis, decades of deindustrialisation have left a legacy of unemployment, underemployment, falling living standards and expanding social and economic inequality. This has also hit middle-income Republicans hard. Many of them now support higher taxes on corporations and the very wealthy and back some kind of redistribution of income and wealth.
This is a rejection of the core principles of the Reaganite conservative consensus: low taxes, free markets, welfare cuts, laissez-faire government. Trump has also shown that social conservatism is not a prerequisite for victory in the GOP primaries, another blow to the party’s Reagan-era principles.
And so, is the GOP leadership left with no choice but to get behind Trump? There have been recent overtures. Some GOP stalwarts responded noticeably warmly to Trump’s first “serious” foreign policy speech, and Karl Rove’s well-funded campaign organisation has reportedly indicated that if necessary, it would back Trump against Hillary Clinton.
But Cruz’s verdict on Trump, which is shared by a majority of Republican voters, speaks to just how toxic the GOP’s presumptive nominee really is. “This man is a pathological liar, he doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies … in a pattern that is straight out of a psychology textbook, he accuses everyone of lying,” said Cruz on the threshold of the Indiana vote. “Whatever lie he’s telling, at that minute he believes it … the man is utterly amoral”.
The GOP civil war is unlikely to abate any time soon – and that’s a boon to Clinton. The big question now is whether Clinton can turn the other party’s crisis into the Democrats' opportunity. She must now fashion a message that inspires and unites her party for the general election – even as Bernie Sanders, her flagging but still formidable opponent, continues to win states and vows to continue his campaign against the party’s establishment and it Wall Street backers.