The seeds of a new revolution are in the ground. If they get enough water in the November election, there’s no telling what will happen.
Pundits, who often only seem to talk to each other and read pointy-headed reports and memos written by peers, appear totally confounded about what’s going on in the electorate as tanking GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump continues to foment disarray and discontent. Just when the talking heads think they’ve got Trump figured out, he does something new that bewitches them more – to the delight of his followers.
With presidential election politics so volatile, perhaps it’s time to stop looking at the daily horse race and consider what might happen actually after November 8. History may provide a guide.
The closest parallel to today’s odd election is way back in 1848 when the two leading parties – the Whigs and the Democrats – wanted a Mexican War hero, Gen. Zachary Taylor, to be their candidate. Taylor, a Southerner who bragged he had never voted and was mostly apolitical, went with the Whigs, who were being torn apart by internecine struggles over slavery and whether it should allowed in new states and territories.
Former state Superintendent of Education Jim Rex, who has started a moderate, alternate party in South Carolina called the American Party, sees some modern similarities with in the 1848 election, describing Taylor as “sort of Trumpy.”
“This pompous, self-absorbed, do-nothing with no experience was the beginning of the end of the Whig Party,” Rex observed. Taylor, who died less than two years into his term, did little to quell the growing national questions over slavery, which eventually pulled the Whigs apart.
In February 1854, “a number of Conscious Whigs, Free-Soilers, and Anti-Slavery Democrats met in Ripon, Wisconsin, … to recommend the organization of a new political party pledged to oppose the further extension of slavery,” historian Paul F. Boller Jr. wrote. Five months later, a new party called the “Republican Party” emerged just in time for the election of 1856.
More than 100 years later in 1964, Republicans faced a defining moment in the campaign of conservative Barry Goldwater, as the party embraced disaffected Southern Democrats like Strom Thurmond over civil rights, observed conservative strategist Avik Roy, who believes the GOP may be headed toward the fate of the Whigs.
“Conservative intellectuals, and conservative politicians, have been in kind of a bubble,” Roy said in a Vox.com article last month. “We’ve had this view that the voters were with us on conservatism – philosophical, economic conservatism. In reality, the gravitational center of the Republican Party is white nationalism.”
The GOP, Roy argued, needs to deal with race, an echo of postmortems after its 2008 and 2012 losses by candidates to Barack Obama. Instead this year, the party has turned to a divider, not a healer.
“Trump is a creation of the Republican Party,” Rex said. “He is their Frankenstein and the monster got up off the table after all of these years.”
So what’s ahead? If Trump, who appears way behind in Electoral College votes, pulls off a win, Republicans probably will circle the wagons of harmony some, but continue to be plagued by disarray between country club stalwarts and Trump-supporting, anti-immigrant voters who expect the red meat of change never envisioned by Obama. Moderates across party lines could get sick of the disarray and, despite institutional hurdles, form a moderate third party.
If Clinton wins? A likely scenario is more disarray in Washington as the gridlock that crippled Obama’s agenda will continue. The Republican brand will be severely hurt and factionalism will ensue, but anti-Democratic forces could unite over key issues to thwart Clinton’s initiatives. Meanwhile, third parties like the Libertarians and Greens will try to take advantage to attract more followers as a viable alternative.
Rex believes politics in America has reached a tipping point. “Things can change more dramatically and quickly in American politics than most people think,” he observed.
More and more, it looks like the election of 2016 will spawn some kind of change, but change defined by disarray. It seems likely that the candidate who wins will be a one-term president as the country tries to make sense of whatever happens.