The constant pleas for unity during this week’s Republican National Convention cannot drown out some stark truths about the fractured state of the GOP. Sen. Ted Cruz made that perfectly clear Wednesday night.
People across the political spectrum want to know what’s next for Republicans who don’t support, or outright oppose, Donald Trump for president. The responses are a cacophony. Some are aligning behind Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, others are organizing for Hillary Clinton, some threaten to not vote, and still others are plotting parallel policy constructs intended to articulate a next iteration of principled conservatism.
There is no unity among Trump holdouts because their central organizing principle–the Republican Party itself–is at risk. As the #NeverTrump elements scatter toward various coping mechanisms for the general election, adherents wonder whether it would be possible, at some point, to work with those who support the Trump campaign to build, again, a political party that resembles what the GOP used to be. Or Never Trumpers might conclude that the damage to their version of Republicanism is irreparable and that they need to start a new political party.
Republican Party officials have had to contort themselves and their platform to fit within–and then defend–Mr. Trump’s brand of nativist, authoritarian politics. This Trump brand has subsumed the Republican brand as it was known since Ronald Reagan–and has 60% disapproval ratings. At that point one questions the value of what could be excavated and refurbished.
Support for limited government, free trade, a strong defense, and reverence for the First Amendment once bound together disparate wings of the GOP. The Trump platform of religious intolerance, protectionism, and entrenched entitlements has alienated many who held what were Republican values. Many question the judgment of those who argue that Mr. Trump is less of a risk in the Oval Office than Mrs. Clinton. The chasm may be too wide to bridge.
With Mr. Trump officially the Republican nominee, the brains and billionaires who fought hard against this outcome may conclude that the easiest path to putting a conservative in the White House after 2016 is to build a whole new conservative political party.
These calculations will be assessed throughout the general election. Republican Party unity on Nov. 9 will depend less on how many votes Mr. Trump wins than on what lengths GOP officials and candidates go to excuse and explain how Mr. Trump’s politics fit into the historical Republican lexicon. And pleas for unity after Election Day may encounter an even colder reception from Republican opponents of Donald Trump, with meaningful implications for the future of the two-party system.
Juleanna Glover is a corporate consultant and Republican policy and communications adviser who has served on the staffs of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft, and others. She co-hosted fundraisers for former Florida governor Jeb Bush during the 2016 primaries. She is on Twitter: @juleannaglover.