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The Fault-Lines in the Trump-GOP coalition
Before voting ended in the US Presidential Election on November 8th, the general consensus was that the Republican Party would be forever changed. Many predicted a devastating civil war that would rage throughout the conservative movement. Following Donald Trump's surprise victory in the Electoral College, discussion has suddenly switched to how the Democratic Party are in crisis, having lost control of all three branches of government.
There's no doubt that the Democrats have some serious problems to deal with, but to declare that all is well with the GOP is short-sighted. Those pundits who saw the ideological problems within the Republican Party before the election (which were obvious to many observers) weren't wrong; the Republican's recent electoral success has only papered over these cracks.
Complacency can be a huge problem for political parties. The Democrats have recently discovered that their complacency over their party organization and cultivation of new talent has left them suddenly both bereft of power and prominent political figures. Barack Obama's electoral successes with his coalition of minorities, women and young voters blinded the party establishment to the need to promote young rising stars and invest in party infrastructure at local and state levels in order to win more state legislative and gubernatorial elections. Consequently, there are very few younger Democratic politicians with significant legislative experience and/or a national profile and soon there will only be 15 Democratic state governors (the GOP will have 34).
Once Obama leaves office, the defacto leaders of the Democratic Party appear to be Nancy Pelosi (aged 76), Bernie Sanders (75), Elizabeth Warren (67) and Chuck Schumer (66). Despite the popularity of Sanders and Warren, they will be 79 and 71 respectively by the time the 2020 Presidential Election rolls around. Trump will be 74 by the time he stands for re-election; a young Democratic nominee could have a significant advantage when it comes to age.
However, the GOP have a potential complacency problem to contend with. The Republican primary, as well as much of the general election campaign, exposed the fault-lines in GOP ideology. Trump's brand of populism clearly clashes with the orthodox Paul Ryan-Mitch McConnell wing of the party and while recent electoral success has so far united Republicans, there are a range of issues on the legislative agenda that could cause the schisms that were so evident over the previous 18 months to widen.
Trump wants to significantly invest in infrastructure, something that is not compatible with the fiscal hawkishness of Ryan and many mainstream Republicans (even if Trump sweetens the deal with the GOP's favorite answer to pretty much anything: tax cuts for the wealthy). Ryan's lust for austerity has long compelled him to want to enact reforms of social security and Medicare (to call them 'entitlements' is just giving in to conservative spin)- can Trump afford to anger a large proportion of his voters by signing any such reforms into law?
And this is before the future of Obamacare is discussed. Trump, as with all populists, loves nothing more to be loved and promote himself as a man of the people. As it turns out, a wholesale repeal of Obamacare might not be the winner he pretended it to be since the day he announced his decision to run for president. Kicking 20 million people off their health insurance, allowing insurance companies to once again deny coverage due to pre-existing conditions, and preventing parents from keeping their children on their insurance until they turn 26 is actually deeply unpopular with many Americans. Dwight Eisenhower once warned the GOP that "should any political party attempt to abolish social security...you would not hear of that party again". While repealing Obamacare will probably not be as disastrous as an attempt to repeal social security, Trump's now much-lauded political instincts are probably telling him that it would be costly at the ballot box.
But these examples demonstrate the crux of the ideological problems for Republicans. For the past 30 years, conservative neo-liberal thinking has shaped the economic consensus in the USA and much of the Western world without successful challenge by politicians on the left. Trump's political success represented a popular backlash against these policies as much as it did against political correctness, a multicultural and multiracial society or immigration. The mainstream GOP assumption that Trump's victory has presented them a mandate to finally shrink the scope and size of the federal government and pursue a purely pro-business agenda is mistaken. Although Trump is a political conman who will say whatever he thinks is the most effective to promote himself, it is clear that he hates being unpopular.
Trump's brand of populism was so successful because conservative orthodoxy on economic matters is unpopular with large swathes of the population. When you examine all of Trump's proposed policies, no matter how unrealistic or impractical some of them are, they all require spending. Ryan desperately wants to reduce government spending. While some money can be found through cutting government budgets and programs, Trump is discovering that there is only so much cutting that can be done before people begin to get angry.
As seen with the way in which Sanders and Hillary Clinton came together after a contentious and hard-fought primary campaign, you can stick a bunch of Democrats in a room and you will witness a great deal of broad ideological agreement, even if they may not always agree on small details. The Trump-Republican coalition is actually miles apart on one significant issue for any ruling party- government spending.
The Republican Civil War is still brewing.