The painful dilemma at the heart of the US Republican party

To win the Republican nomination you need to be a very right wing. The Republican base who vote in primaries tend to be very right wing. The influence of the Tea Party has exacerbated this situation. So Donald Trump is doing very well in the GOP (“Grand Ol’ Party” = Republican party) polls for the 2016 Presidential nomination. The more he says that Muslims need to be tracked on a database, the border needs to be closed to them and a border wall needs to be built by Mexico, the more the Republican core adore him.

I’ve lost count of the number of times commentators have expected a “Howard Dean moment” to befall Trump. It’s not going to happen. He’s like Boris Johnson. The more he makes embarrassing comments, the more a certain constituency of people love him. He can talk himself out of any corner. – Even if he uses the verbal equivalent of a 12 bore shotgun.

There’s a dichotomy here though. You need to be a right-wing nut job to win the Republican nomination. But to win the Presidency, you need to appeal to Independents and moderate Democrats. I don’t see them going for Trump.

So that is the Republican dilemma for the Republicans. Trump is best placed, currently, to wow the grass roots in their party. But they love him for the traits which are the opposite of those which appeal to the nation as a whole.

I would fancy Chris Christie or Jeb Bush to do well in the national contest. Chris Christie recently made a fantastically good speech about tackling drug use as a medical problem. Jeb Bush has a magical key to the Hispanic vote – which in the Republican party is worth its weight in gold.

But those two are “softies” as far as the Republican grass roots are concerned.

So goodness knows what will happen. At the current rate of progress I expect Trump to be Republican nominee and Clinton to be the Democrat. Currently Clinton is polling four points ahead of Trump in potential match-ups – Bush and Christie erode that lead to around three points.

But it’s early days. Normally there is much chopping and changing within candidates in the non-incumbent party nomination race. Already we have seen Scott Walker lead the Republican race and then crash and burn.

With George W Bush we often said that we couldn’t believe America would elect him – and they did. So I think we need to brace ourselves for President Trump. You never know, it could happen.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Alisdair McGregor 11th Dec '15 - 3:03pm

    Trump is basically the mirror image of Jeremy Corbyn.

  • Trump is against the TPP so he like Corbyn is another protectionist.

  • David Faggiani 11th Dec '15 - 3:40pm

    There’s been a lot of focus on Trump running as an Independent, should the Republicans fail to select him, and making the race a three-way trot, with the benefits being the Democrats. But what if it went the other way? In other words, Trump gets the Republican nomination, and several prominent moderate Republicans, who have finally had enough, form a ‘Gang of Four’ style breakaway (call it ‘The New Republicans’, or the ‘Liberty Party’, or something) and nominate a third Party candidate. Now that would make 2016 interesting. A proper fight for the future of the Republican Party….

  • Conor McGovern 11th Dec '15 - 4:01pm

    I wouldn’t say being opposed to a total corporate monopoly makes you protectionist. It makes you free trade. We should be breaking up concentrations of power, not propping them up like the Tories.

  • Matt (Bristol) 11th Dec '15 - 5:02pm

    As I said elsewhere, the fact that the Republicans accepted this man – a known provacateur and self-publicist of extreme views and negotiable finances – into their race despite holding no previous elected role is enough for foreign observers to despair of their politics. I can’t see why they haven’t expelled him already. Any UK party would. But the party system is weak in the US – I do often feel that our party system could be weaker, but clearly I would have to admit now that there is such a thing as too weak, particularly when money is strong. The fact that open primaries encourage this sorting of bragging culture is making me reassess their potential relevance to the UK.

    I think Putin (whose Russia Today station likes to give Trump, Farage, Galloway and others of extreme views oxygen to sow discord) must be laughing like a drain — see Nick Tyrones’ blog for more on this.

    Insurgent candidates are always fun to watch at first but its all fun and games until someone loses an eye (or, indeed, grasp of the central values of western liberal democracy).

    For a more centre-ground European liberal insurgency, let’s hope Ciudadanos in Spain can provide good surprises, for a change.

  • Matt (Bristol) 11th Dec '15 - 5:05pm

    David Faggiani, in your scenario, if the REpublicans really did split and 2 candidates ran (a la Theodore Roosevelt), could the Democratic left bear to contain itself within the Clinton campaign or would Sanders decide the chance had come for him to take the national stage in a four-way contest?

    I’d imagine Bush or Clinton would still win, but the Trump-Le Pen parallels would get closer if the left were split too.

  • Richard Underhill 11th Dec '15 - 8:23pm

    “They told me that if I voted for Goldwater that within a year there would be a million American troops in Vietnam.
    Well I did vote for Goldwater and sure enough, within a year there were a million American troops in Vietnam.”

    Hillary Rodham was for Gold Water AU-H2O.

  • Gaetano Russo 11th Dec '15 - 9:54pm

    Whilst I mostly agree with the article, it’s worth pointing out that the complex state-by-state rules as to who gets to vote in each primary mean that Trump could count on victories in states with open primaries (where unregistered disgruntled voters can vote for him) without having to enormously “wow the grassroots of the party” and thus win most of the closed primaries. In 2008 McCain didn’t win any closed primaries until Super Tuesday, and won the nomination despite Romney outperforming him among registered Republicans in pretty much every race. (Check .

    I think a key problem with the whole Tea Party-evolving-into-Trump phenomenon is that it has fundamentally tarnished the Republican party’s reputation outside of the U.S. I’m sure a lot of actually registered “grassroots” Republicans are there for the Conservatism and not the Populism, and are reasonably mortified that the power of non-members to choose its candidates (for state and national office) is increasingly played upon to radicalise the party. (Sound familiar? *”Cough Cough Corbyn”* … Ironically, the sentiments of social democrats in UK Labour and genuine Conservatives in the USA are probably much the same right now).

  • Mark Blackburn 11th Dec '15 - 11:10pm

    I find most of this analysis too narrow. Look at the rise of UKIP here, the Front National in France, the situation in Poland. If you blame ‘foreigners’ for everything loud enough and often enough, and fan the flames through distorting media, those who are on the end of the post-capitalist boot are going to start believing you. Be afraid.

  • Tsar Nicholas 12th Dec '15 - 2:57am

    Trump has never voted to bomb and actually kill Muslims, whereas plenty of Democrats and self-professed Liberals have done just that. In addition, his comments are nowhere near as aggressive as Rubio who said in the last few days that nukes should be used in Syria to see if sand can glow in the dark.

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