What really needs to be asked is this: How is Donald Trump changing America? Not how he will change the country if he lands in the White House, but how he’s already changing it. Because Trump, even before he secures the Republican nomination -- and even if he never wins the presidency -- has transformed America as much as any political figure of our era. It’s a transformation that transcends politics and bleeds deeply into our culture....But I think David Greenberg is closer to the truth when he compares the Trump moment to Teddy Roosevelt's break from the GOP in 1912, which led to a third-party run under the banner of the Progressive Party:
We can expect future Republican presidential candidates, running in a party that has not only lastingly alienated Americans of color but threatened them with open hatred and violence -- even expulsion -- to borrow from Trump’s strategy of racial polarization. Trump might fail, in other words, but Trumpism will live on. And given the fact America has a two-party system and voters will inevitably want change, we have to face the prospect that even if Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders wins the White House for Democrats in November, the historical odds say the United States will eventually elect a Trumpian president.
... The dog whistle has given way to the air horn. And now when white people want to harass Hispanic basketball players or Muslim students, they have a rallying cry: “Trump, Trump, Trump!”
... if history is any guide, even a Trump exodus may be less consequential than many are imagining.Does the following sound familiar?
Running as a third-party candidate, TR certainly put up a strong fight, placing second overall. But, beyond that, his eventual decision to run on a third-party ticket had few lasting effects. It didn’t radically change the character of the GOP. It didn’t even present its members with a credible alternative beyond 1912. Like many third parties in American history, the Progressive Party that Roosevelt created was held together primarily by its adherents’ love for its standard-bearer. And that cult of personality wasn’t enough to make up for the history, infrastructure and deep bench of talented leaders that his movement lacked.
Roosevelt ... wasn’t temperamentally cut out for party-building. He did little to strengthen his new creation. Instead, he went on a treacherous expedition to the Amazon River basin, where he nearly succumbed to disease (three of his fellow adventurers died). Meanwhile, without TR topping the ticket, Progressive Party candidates did poorly in 1914.Do you think Trump is temperamentally cut out for party-building, or even movement-building? Isn't he much more likely to go off and do another reality show, or find an even younger wife? And without Trump, I don't see how this is sustained, any more than Ross Perot's movement was sustained.
... even if Trump bolts this year, it’s hard to see a lasting party emerging out of his candidacy. His voters represent, if anything, a less cohesive group than Roosevelt’s did in 1912. And just as no Progressive Party would have emerged that year without TR, so Trump’s voters almost certainly wouldn’t be coming together this year if it weren’t for Trump.What needs to be added is that the party will probably also tweak its appeals to the baser natures of its voters. Yes, post-Trump Republicans will try to appeal to white nationalism and anti-black and anti-Muslim racism, but they'll revert to using coded phrases and dog whistles, albeit with somewhat less coding than in the pre-Trump era. There'll be less inclination to pretend that torture is a bad thing. There'll be more talk of merciless military assaults, with not much concern about whether the uses of force being described are war crimes. Future Republicans won't be just like Trump. But they'll be somewhat more like Trump.
Nor, for that matter, would a Trump victory in Cleveland change the GOP as much as some are predicting. Too many of its stalwarts are deeply committed to policies of limited government and low taxes for the GOP to rewrite its basic script. The party may well soften its maximalist positions on a few issues to regain the allegiance of the middle-class whites flocking to Trump. But it will probably tweak, rather than overhaul, its stances on its core issues.
Let's recall that David Duke's run for governor of Louisiana in 1991 didn't turn the state into a Klan hotbed -- in fact, sixteen years later the state elected Piyush "Bobby" Jindal, an Indian-American, as governor. On the other hand, the man who replaced Jindal in Congress was Steve Scalise, who once gave a speech to a white supremacist group and reportedly referred to himself as "like David Duke without the baggage" -- none of which has prevented him from becoming the House majority whip, a leadership position he retained even after his this uncomfortable information came to light.
So should we worry about the GOP become more Trump-like? Sure. Will that transformation involve jackboots? If it happens, it's more likely to be a lot subtler than that.