When Sarah Palin was unveiled as the Vice President nominee in 2008, a fissure was created in the Republican Party. While heavily right wing during the eight Bush years, her presence really brought out the far, deep lying conservatives, the evangelicals who claimed to be the soul of the GOP. And it displaced many moderates; just look at how John McCain sunk and how quickly Mitt Romney flipped on many key issues.
Despite holding the majority in Congress for the past decade, when it comes to the White House, many intellectuals were predicting the difficulties of a Republican winning the presidency. Tainted by Bush, or extreme conservativism, there didn’t seem to be a candidate strong enough to lead the party anywhere. When John Boehner stepped down as Speaker of the House, nobody wanted to take on the role knowing the national outcry over congressional productivity of late. Not until Paul Ryan was partly pushed into the role, and even then he’s not a typical trailblazer when it comes to Republican politics.
The Non-Republican Republican
Donald Trump has confused things. He is the confusion in this year’s election because nobody knows how to handle him. Questions like, “Is he even a real Republican?” are still being asked. Many truly believe he is an agent working for the Clinton machine, to make her more electable (although Bernie Sanders may still have say in this).
Trump was opposed to the Iraq War, and has also voiced his socially liberal beliefs in the past (although he may now flip). He will happily attack Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders from a conservative stand-point, and then take on Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush with non-conformist GOP rhetoric. Any other candidate would be trailing in the polls, making third at the most. Trump is leading most of them, and has already won two of the first three contests. Trump is moderate, but unlike most moderates of the party, he is loved by those on the right and center.
Two faces of the GOP
In 2008 McCain’s biggest problem was the belief he wouldn’t court the party’s base. He needed a VP partner who would excite the far-right to come out and canvas for him, and get people voting for him. Romney faced the same puzzle, despite his switching on many social and economical issues. They both needed their Palin and Ryan faces to stand a chance at the prize. And both were flummoxed at the progressive power of President Obama.
In Republican presidential cycles, moderates need something to excite the party. Cruz or Rubio would be good partners to the Jebs of the GOP. Yet none of these three are succeeding in dominating the key groups.
Ted Cruz is the evangelical darling, supposedly, and the Tea Party favorite. Causing problem after problem for the Senate, and being disliked by many of his own peers, he should have a great platform to stand out; not a flunky of the Washington establishment, but his own man, and a good, wholesome, Christian who loves his guns, his bible and America. Yet in South Carolina the evangelicals flew to Trump.
There hasn’t been another election in recent times when voters in the Iowa and New Hampshire were troubled over whether to vote for the guy on the left or the guy on the right. Not candidates in the same party, but candidates across the board. But that’s how people see Trump; he’s not too far removed from the political style of Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Socialist Senator from Vermont. They are the alternatives on both sides, but only one seems to really get multiple demographics excited.
Authenticity first, policy second
The thing with Trump is people really don’t seem to care what he says. Ask one of his supporters why they’re voting for him and some will spew something about a wall Mexico are paying for (although no one has actually asked Mexico yet), but most will calmly say they believe him. He’s “real”. He’s authentic. He’s successful in his own life so why wouldn’t he be successful in a different venture. While Cruz may claim to be an outsider in the Washington corridors, Trump doesn’t even have a presence in the Capitol.
With forty-seven more primaries to come Trump is sure to pick up a fistful of delegates. He may have them wrestled from him at the convention and he may lose in the end, or drop out to go and do something else like wakeboarding. He’s simply unpredictable and says what he thinks. And while much of it is to be cringed at, he is refreshing to listen to, no matter how much he panders (see: “two” Corinthians).
The new Gipper?
The race for the nomination will potentially shape the future of the Republican Party. He could be the unifying figure they have lacked since Ronald Reagan. While the Democrats can mostly get behind a single nominee when it matters (Hillary supporters rallying for Obama in 2008, for instance), the Republican ticket has typically had one moderate and one conservative to placate the electorate.
Trump’s VP choice will be a key moment in the battle for the “soul” of the Republican Party. He could pick whomever he chooses. After all, he already has the conservative evangelicals, the moderate fiscals and the independent libertarians. He could pick Rubio or Cruz, he could even do a McCain and choose Palin. The truth is, it doesn’t seem to matter who he should choose. At the way he’s going he could probably continue until January 20th 2017 and pick someone from the crowd to be sworn in by the Chief Justice.