“Forget Party Unity”: Congressional Republicans And Trump Are Actually Better Off Divided
Donald Trump has been trying to make peace with his party – and is failing miserably.
Earlier this week, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee went up to Capitol Hill to meet with GOP senators in a bid for party unity. According to reports, the meeting did not go well. As the New York Times described it, Trump’s session turned into “an extraordinary series of acrid exchanges, punctuated by Mr. Trump’s threatening one Republican senator and deriding another as a ‘loser.'” The episode prompted the Washington Post to declare that “GOP unity is dead.”
For any other presidential candidate, this would be problem of enormous proportions. For Trump, it’s more of a minor annoyance.
Trump doesn’t really need his party. His entire candidacy has been predicated on being an outsider. The continued conflict with party leaders has allowed Trump to pull off the rather difficult but necessary feat of being two things at once. As the party’s nominee, he is de facto the establishment. But the reticence of many of his political colleagues to embrace his candidacy means he remains the outsider, despite his current position as head of his party. The duality is essential for keeping the Trump campaign alive.
If Trump were to go mainstream, he wouldn’t be Trump anymore and the base of support that propelled him to the nomination would begin to dissipate. Would falling in line with his party, however, allow Trump to pick up the moderate votes that are always so crucial in a general election? Maybe. But those votes may not be enough if the core base that nominated him starts to feel disaffected because their candidate changed course. Trump rode to the nomination on a wave of disgust for the current system. The one and only rationale for his campaign is the claim that America needs to be fixed to be great again. It would be hard for Trump to continue toeing that line if he starts cozying up to some of the people who have been running America for several years.
The lack of GOP unity doesn’t just work for Trump. It also works for everyone else in the Republican Party. While some members of Congress have been quick to support Trump because it makes for good politics back home, there are several others who view their party’s presidential nominee as toxic to their re-election. The distance between Trump and the rest of the party benefits these folks greatly, as it helps insulate them from the “Trump effect” in their state or congressional district. For the most electorally vulnerable members of Congress, winning over moderate voters will be key to their ability to stay in office. Association with Trump’s polarizing views would jeopardize their ability to do so.
So if no one really benefits from GOP party unity, why do they keep trying to make it happen? It’s unclear. In most election years, a unified party is an important part of a winning strategy. It ensures a cohesive message and presents a comprehensive case to the country for the party’s entire ticket. Perhaps it’s hard for the GOP to move away from that paradigm. However, the Republican Party would do best to acknowledge that this election year is unlike any other and disunity may be their smartest strategy.
By: Cary Gibson, Contributor, U. S. News and World Report, July 8, 2016