Eight years ago, the Republican Party found itself in a serious identity crisis. Senator Barack Obama steamrolled John McCain in the presidential race while Democrats controlled the House and half of the Senate. From the beginning, George W. Bush’s presidency divided the nation politically after losing the popular vote to Al Gore. One failed war, ballooning national debt and countless foreign policy failures during Bush’s presidency further drove nails into the Republican Party’s coffin.
In 2008, the Republicans looked old, ineffective and stubborn; a party of hypocrisy, preaching freedom and praising the individual while pushing a religious agenda that held blatant disregard for individual rights. A party that alienated millions of voters who would have otherwise voted for fiscal conservatism, a realist worldview and belief in trickle-down economics.
It’s March 2016 and Donald Trump has eviscerated establishment Republicans Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham, among others. As it stands, Ted Cruz represents the religious right’s last grip on what used to be a stranglehold of the Republican Party. Cruz stamped his name on the back of the Tea Party, which originally held an agenda of strict constitutionalism and fierce opposition to the political establishment. Cruz, Rand Paul and Sarah Palin painted themselves as champions of the Tea Party, though none of them grew organically from within. Cruz and countless opportunist politicians attempted to hijack constitutionalist efforts of the Tea Party and meld the agenda back into the religious right. Trump’s surge is a clear signal to the establishment â€“ just as Bernie Sanders’ campaign is â€“ that “enough is enough.”
Americans are tired of “voting for the lesser of two evils” in every presidential election, and Trump’s takedown of establishment candidates is energizing dormant voters. It’s 2016 and politicians are getting rich from their public service. This isn’t a secret or a conspiracy â€“ it’s common knowledge that candidates receive corporate donations to prop companies. The same corporations who fund presidential campaigns find their board members in cabinet seats, an arrogant and shameless show of collusion. The election can be bought, but Trump can’t.
Trump is speaking his mind, funding his campaign and appealing to real peopleâ€¦ and it is infuriating the establishment. CNN has turned itself into a 24/7 antiâ€“Trump machine â€“ and it is destroying CNN’s appearance as a legitimate news source. The network’s desperate attempt to take down Trump is backfiring. The playbook is the same: paint the outsider Republican as a racist and a sexist, insist the outsider Republican will start a war, reintroduce David Duke, invoke fear. The media and corporate political establishment has used the same playbook for decades, the same soundbites. Political pundits repeat the same coined phrases, while candidates repeat the same rehearsed speeches. Trump is making the presidential race human again.
Post-Reagan conservatives are scrambling to devise a plan to oust Trump, but the party’s arrogance and refusal to change message over 20 years put Trump in power. Obama’s first-term failures should have meant Republican victory in 2012, but the Republicans once again fell back on religious right candidates in Romney and Santorum pushing the agenda of anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage. The result was a disastrous failure: a Mormon candidate from the East Coast sucked into the Democratic discussion of universal healthcare.
After four more years of failed Obama policies, the Republicans again selected their field arrogantly for 2016. There were too many candidates on the stage; there were two stages of candidates! Trump jumped out to an early lead by commanding the stage and setting the debate tone. Other candidates seemed to fight for airtime scraps, nobody commanded attention, nobody emerged as a clear opposition to Trump and nobody dropped out in time. Now Cruz, John Kasich and Marco Rubio are left, some of the weaker candidates, still part of the Republican conundrum. Cruz, Kasich and Rubio’s delegates combined could have mounted an opposition to Trump but each candidate’s refusal to bow out of the race has further empowered the one candidate who is energizing Republican voters.
Trump is generating excitement in the Republican Party as Obama did for Democrats in 2008. That excitement is pivotal for a Republican victory in 2016. Obama didn’t just change the minds of voters in 2008, he moved the party towards a progressive ideology that changed the Democrat platform and pushed the country further away from fiscally conservative ideals. Trump has openly attacked Obama economic and foreign policy for years. Democrats chose Obama in 2008 because they grew tired of Clinton politics, just like today’s Republicans have grown tired of Bush politics. If the Democratic Party wasn’t so hell-bent on President Hillary Clinton, she may have fizzled out of the race like Jeb Bush on the Republican side. Democrats refuse to let go of the past and as a result, Sanders â€“ who is even further to the left than Obama â€“ is challenging Clinton. Sanders’ success is a direct result of arrogance by Democrats and their refusal to give voters a real choice, just like the Republicans failed to do in 2008 and 2012.
Voters are frustrated with the norm: the talking heads, the selling of our economy to foreign countries, corporate domination of the political process, corporate domination of the legislative process and the abandonment of our ideals as a capitalist society. Trump is successfully tapping into voter frustration, exposing the establishment and the hypocrites that keep it in place. As a result, the media, the foundations of dying political ideologies, failed candidates, and rabid pundits are now the frustrated. The political desperation to stop Trump and talk of a brokered convention are propelling Trump further ahead. Trump is exciting Republican voters like no other candidate since Reagan and, as a result, the GOP will never be the same. This change is long overdue and must happen if Republicans want to stop a Democratic political machine that taps into the insecurities of voters in order to push forward the same socialist policies that are failing in Europe.
Trump is making the Republican Party relevant again and instead of shooting themselves in the foot like 1992, 1996, 2008 and 2012, the Republicans need to rally around Trump. If the Republicans want to win in 2016, they need to merge their resources and go into the general election unified behind their strongest candidate: Donald J. Trump.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Jason Reynard is a columnist, author, and former political operative who has worked on both Republican and Democratic campaigns across the United States. Reynard currently resides in Ohio, and received his B.A. in Comparative Politics from Ohio University in 2009.