Trump’s hostile takeover is dangerous

trump-gopDonald Trump’s candidacy poses significant risks for the US and for the Republican Party. Although the US Constitution – with its strong executive presidency and the requirement for a majority in the Electoral College – encourages the creation of a party system with two, broad-based, parties, this is no guarantee that any individual party will survive. The Republican Party is today in grave danger.

There are two dangers here, and they cannot both be avoided. The first is that Donald Trump is elected president and the other is that he is defeated. Both scenarios are extremely difficult for the Republican Party.

Let us suppose Trump wins. Then he gets to appoint the Chair of the RNC and acquires all the patronage powers of the presidency. He appoints hundreds of populists who support his agenda to positions across both government and the party. In a two party system, being out of power is usually temporary. A period of liberal rule is followed by conservative rule. No party becomes dominant. But what if there is no conservative party at all? What if there is a populist party and a liberal party? They would compete with each other to offer protectionism and government control as the solution to the economy, and the result of such policies would be increasing economic sclerosis. There could be widespread defections, to both the Democrats and the Libertarians. The Republicans might find it increasingly difficult to compete in elections, but if populism proves popular, the result would be even worse.

So let us suppose he loses. Trump is not a good loser – though his business record suggests he should have learned a lot about it by now. He will simply deny that he lost. He will carry on with his (mostly) bizarre claims that the system is rigged and he was cheated. He will point to being disowned by much of the Republican establishment, including, most recently, Speaker Paul Ryan. He will blame them for his defeat.

A resounding defeat for Trump and Trumpism should produce a backlash in the party, with people voting for moderates or real conservatives next time. But if Trump and his voters seek to undermine future candidates – just as Romney, Ryan and the Bushes have undermined him – then the broad coalition will not hold together.

The best result for the GOP is that Trump leads a walkout, and hardly anyone follows. Perhaps, like Pat Buchanan in 2000, he will become the candidate of a fringe party: the Constitution Party would take him, even though he is astonishingly ignorant and contemptuous of the Constitution. But Trump is a bigger figure than Buchanan, so his walkout would probably hit the party harder.

Win or lose in November, Trump, and his hostile takeover of the Republican Party, will do the party lasting harm. And that will do America lasting harm. Governments need oppositions. No idea is ever so good that it cannot benefit from being challenged and questioned. Even the best and most capable governments need oppositions to do that for them. If Trump destroys the GOP then America loses.

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Quentin Langley lives in New York and London and teaches at the University of Bedfordshire Business School. He is the author of Brandjack: How your reputation is at risk from brand pirates and what to do about it

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