While most reasonable people are mystified and disgusted by the popularity of Donald Trump, his appeal isn't surprising considering the way the Republican party has conducted itself for the past fifty years.
Republicans have cynically exploited Americans' fears and stoked their anger since the Nixon Administration and the success of Trump's rage, racism, misogyny, classless personal attacks, and dangerous bluster are the fruits of those efforts.
Trump has also, unintentionally, given progressive-minded Americans a wonderful opportunity by fracturing the Republican Party and exposing the unpopularity of its guiding principles, making it less likely they will ever be enacted. It is also likely he will lose in a landslide, do lasting damage to the Republican brand, and hand Democrats the keys to the White House for a generation.
While Trump is adept at using the type of bigotry the Republican Party has employed for decades, he deviates from Republican orthodoxy in the areas most important to Republican elites. Broadly speaking, though there are many factions, the modern Republican Party has been dominated by three: 1) neo-conservatives who believe in maintaining American military supremacy and its superpower status, 2) fiscal conservatives concerned with cutting spending and tax cuts, and 3) the Religious Right, motivated by abortion, same-sex marriage, and other social issues.
Donald Trump has disrespected each of these groups, ignoring their supposed power brokers, advocating policies they loathe, and making statements that strike fear in their hearts. While he has made unrealistic and belligerent threats towards ISIS, he has also promoted isolationism, denounced the war in Iraq, advocated American withdrawal from NATO, encouraged other countries to develop nuclear weapons, favoured withdrawing from or scaling back defence commitments in Asia and the Middle East, and befriending Vladimir Putin.
These ideas horrify neoconservatives.
This is significant because no meaningful reduction in the size of government or large-scale tax cuts are possible without cutting these programs or running massive deficits, which is anathema to fiscal conservatives. While Trump has proposed large-scale tax cuts he has also proposed tax increases for the rich, a suggestion which would have disqualified any previous Republican presidential candidate.
Relative to other Republicans, Trump is a moderate on gay and trans rights and, though he has recently proposed punishing women who have abortions, he has also expressed strong pro-choice positions in the past.
He has said he never asks God's forgiveness and referred to the communion wafer as his "little cracker."
He routinely brags about his promiscuity, sexual prowess, and infidelity and even boasted about the size of his penis.
These policy positions and incendiary comments have also offended much of the evangelical Christian community.
In short, Donald Trump is a heretic in the Republican Party. Despite this fact, he dominated the Republican race for the nomination and proved, to the shock of many, that Republican policies simply aren't that popular, or at least not that important, to most Republican voters.
Trump's ideological impurity did not go unnoticed by the Republican establishment. A veritable all-star team of conservative and Republican grandees attacked him with all the force they could muster.
Using Trump's record as evidence, they made a convincing case that he was not an authentic conservative. It didn't matter at all. Most Republican voters couldn't have cared less and Trump cruised to victory, proving the Republican Party and Republican voters share few of the same values or priorities.
This has important implications for the future. This election has shown that Americans have little appetite for massive tax cuts, cuts to major social programs, or more military adventurism abroad. It has also highlighted the declining power of the Christian Right, which seems incapable even of delivering the Bible Belt to its favourite candidates.
By winning the nomination with appeals to racism and white nationalism, protectionism, threats to political enemies, advocacy of torture, overt misogyny, incitements to violence, as well as fear of foreigners and terrorism, Trump ran a campaign that often seemed more fascist than capitalist or conservative.
It is certainly discouraging that a seemingly fascist demagogue has captured the nomination of a major political party in the most powerful country on earth. However, there is a silver lining in the fact that Trump has broken the Republican Party and shown that support for its ideology is much lower than was supposed.
Polls also consistently indicate he will lose the election and he is more strongly disliked than any presidential candidate in history.
Antipathy towards him is so strong he may hurt Republicans in down-ballot races, possibly costing the Republicans the Senate and even (though less likely) the House of Representatives.
A post-Trump Republican Party will likely be toxic to Latinos, Muslims, African-Americans, the majority of women, and young voters. It will be unable to nominate the type of moderate, centre-right candidate who could win the presidency, as somebody popular and sensible enough to appeal to the general public and a changing electorate will not be in a position to capture the party's presidential nomination, since they will please neither Trump voters nor the party elite.
Democrats have an opportunity to build a winning coalition rivaling the Reconstruction Era Republicans who governed for 36 of 44 years between 1869-1913, FDR Democrats who held the presidency for 20 consecutive years between 1933-1953, or the Republican coalition which won every presidential election but one between 1968-1992.
Clearly the future lies in nurturing, maintaining, and growing its base of support among African-American, Latinos, Asian-Americans and women, particularly educated ones. As the Republican Party is bereft of popular policies, led by an odious and unpopular figure, and dominated by the angry white males who become less demographically significant with each passing day, much of the groundwork has already been laid.
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