There’s no point in denying it at this point of the Republican Primaries. Donald Trump is virtually guaranteed at this point to be the Republican nominee for President. The scenario which I laid out in a post back in December, in which the Republican establishment has to contend with a Trump nomination has just about been realised. It is almost guaranteed that he will win most of the states involved in the Super Tuesday primaries handily. The only state in significant doubt for Trump is Texas, the home state of Senator Ted Cruz. According to aggregate polling from RealClearPolitics, Cruz holds a 9-point lead over Trump in this state. Even if Cruz wins Texas, Trump will still have a huge lead in terms of delegates over rivals Cruz and Marco Rubio. Furthermore, with both Cruz and Rubio still contesting the primary, neither has a clear path as establishment candidates to successfully challenge Trump, with both candidates taking support from one another.
Donald Trump’s success to this point has been based on challenging certain orthodoxies of the Republican Party which have stood since the Reagan presidency of the 1980s. One of the primary orthodoxies, which is not very popular with the Republican base, is neoliberal or ‘trickle-down’ economics, which emphasises low taxes, a globalised economy and a diminished welfare state. Much of Trump’s support comes from the working classes, many of whom have been left behind by globalisation and believe the state has a role in ensuring the welfare of its citizens. Related to this, Trump also plays into anxieties around immigration, particularly illegal and undocumented immigrants, of whom there are presently an estimated twelve million within the United States. Globalised economics has meant a large increase in migration, both legal and illegal. Despite all the benefits this has brought to large swathes of the population, many in the working classes, particularly those without a tertiary education, have not been beneficiaries of globalisation. His insistence of building a wall along the Mexican border, at the Mexicans’ expense, as well as raising trade tariffs with China, resonates strongly with this particular constituency.
The George W Bush presidency and his advocacy for a neoconservative, interventionist foreign policy also angered many of these voters. The Iraq War and its aftermath has been attacked heavily by Trump, despite Trump himself supporting the war back in 2002. Trump has also claimed that Bush lied about the 9/11 attacks, as well as questioning his leadership in relation to the attack. This is a marked departure from the Republican establishment, who have consistently praised Bush’s response to the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq War. These factors, along with Trump’s brash, outspoken mannerisms appeal to these voters, who are deeply dissatisfied with the Republican establishment of the last few decades.
Trump’s highly-charged rhetoric on these issues, however, is inconsistent with his past behaviour and statements. On the issue of undocumented workers, for instance, Trump is shown to be hypocritical. Recent reports highlight his use of 150 illegal labourers in the construction of Trump Tower, some of whom were not paid fully. Trump’s position on border control may also not be as strong as it appears. BuzzFeed reported that the New York Times has a tape which suggests Trump is not fixed on his position in relation to immigration. According to the report, Trump’s current position was merely the start of a ‘negotiation’ in relation to the issue. As well as his inconsistency and lack of coherence on many issues, some of his more outlandish statements will likely hurt Trump in a general election contest, despite not appearing to affect him in the primary. Only days ago, Trump repeatedly refused to disavow support from white supremacist David Duke, in the latest of a series of incidents involving Trump and white supremacists. Trump has also repeatedly entertained conspiracy theories, not only during this campaign but also in 2012, when he argued that Barack Obama was not an American citizen. In this cycle, Trump has entertained conspiracy theories relating to the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, as well as speaking to prominent conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on multiple occasions.
A Trump candidacy, despite his success in the Primary, leaves the Republican Party with a deeply flawed candidate to contest a general election against a relatively weak Democratic nominee, presumably in Hillary Clinton. Polling suggests that in a general election contest against Clinton, Trump would lose by a margin of several points. This margin has not changed since December and it does not appear that Trump will be able to close the gap any time soon. This is in contrast to Cruz and Rubio, both of whom would beat Clinton in a general election matchup.
There is also the more fundamental problem of a long-term ideological split within the party. On the one hand, there are the newly-empowered populist conservatives of the party, spearheaded by Trump. These Republicans would like to see a more restrained foreign policy as well as a more protectionist economic policy, similar to that of European-style conservative populists. Trump himself has been likened to a European-style nationalist-minded conservative, such as Nigel Farage in the UK or Marine Le Pen of France or On the other hand, there are Reagan-style conservatives who are vehemently opposed to the likes of Donald Trump, who they see as the antithesis of the fiscally restrained, socially conservative and internationally interventionist Ronald Reagan. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are both very much in this camp of the Republican Party, especially in terms of fiscal policy. Such is the difference between these visions of conservatism that there is now considerable speculation whether the party itself will split. Even if the Republican party remains as is, the struggle over its core principles and ideology is such that it will struggle to be viable in elections, not only in the upcoming general election, but also in the foreseeable future.