However one judges Donald Trump – and in recent polls the vast majority of America views him poorly – most agree he has been the most disruptive force in American politics since the 1854 creation of the pro-abolitionist Republican Party. That event ushered the end of the Whig Party and made the Civil War inevitable.
Although Trump is leaving office and most likely will never be able to win office again, don’t expect the national political dynamics to spring back to their old pre-Trump conditions. Trump seized on many social, racial and economic tensions within the Republican Party. This forced many traditional Republicans to manage through a flood of cognitive dissonance on issues ranging from tariffs and national security to white supremacy and immigration.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party is also managing stresses between its business-backed establishment wing and its more Progressive rank-and-file. These fault lines are defined by differing attitudes toward corporate control of our politics and economy. Manifesting this are issues such as Medicare for All, a national $15/hour minimum wage, treatment of corporations as individuals, campaign finance reform and even in some ways police reform.
A good way to examine the fissures trembling through both parties is by studying subgroup attitudes toward fascism and corporate/elite control. Doing this results in the following four-quadrant rubric:
This shows the Democratic wings to be closely aligned in their attitudes toward fascism and Constitutional procedure. Meanwhile, Republicans practice greater situational ethics on these issues with their attitudes changing depending on what’s in their best interests.
But the alignments shift dramatically when it comes to attitudes toward corporate political influence. Both establishment wings are strongly financed by and attuned to corporate concerns. What this could mean is if Establishment Republicans finally give up on the Full Trumpers, they would most likely seek alignment with the Establishment Democrats. This is somewhat natural as many establishment Democrats – especially those in the Problem Solvers Caucus – in decades past would probably have been what was once known as “Rockefeller Republicans.” I.e., socially liberal to a degree but fiscally conservative/corporate.
Establishment Democrats could drift toward and ally with establishment Republicans if Progressives’ formal power in the party finally catches up to their numeric advantage and popularity of their core issues among average voters. This would then cause Establishment Dems (and their corporate patrons) to either swallow their pride and accept more pro-voter and pro-consumer policies, or maintain their pro-corporate policies and move more toward establishment Republicans.
Then the Establishment wings of both parties would create a new party. But this would only happen if Establishment Republicans completely foreswear their racist and fascist tolerance exemplified during the Trump years and agree to the minimal social safety net of the Establishment Dems.
Based on current voter distributions (see below), this would make the combined Establishment wings competitive against the Progressives.
But unlike the Establishment Dems and Republicans, Progressives would be quite unlikely to merge with the Full Trumpers. The latter are far too deluded with the venom and conspiracy theories of the Trump years to forge an alliance with anyone else. They only do so with Establishment Republicans because the Full Trumpers dominate the Establishment Republicans in both number and party control.
So what happens to the Full Trumpers? One hopes time will cause their elected numbers to gradually diminish, but the hardcore may always be there on the fringes of society and politics. Their voting base could also dwindle if Progressives are able to eventually advance programs and reforms that truly benefit working-class and rural communities that have been ravaged by jobs-killing trade deals like the original NAFTA, the Big Pharma-fueled Opioids Epidemic, closing of rural health facilities, and no longer affordable college educations.
If this could happen, then this could return some of those blue-collar Reagan Democrats of yore to the liberal ranks. But do not expect a realignment to happen all at once.
Remember that the creation of the Full Trumpers was four decades in the making. It started with the Reagan Democrats gravitating to the GOP column in the ’80s and then Third-Way Clinton Democrats de-emphasized working-class Americans as a party cornerstone and went after Wall Street fundraising. Next were the culture war era of Pat Buchannan and Newt Gingrich, who were the spiritual precursors of the Tea Party and Freedom Caucus. Trump then leveraged all this with his brand of supercharged hatred and fear-mongering to narrowly win the presidency against a pro-corporate Establishment Democrat (Hillary Clinton) who had favorability ratings almost as abysmally low as Trump’s.
Trump’s style of politics also influenced a remarkable 34 Republicans (mostly Establishment) to resign from the House midway through Trump’s administration. This included House Speaker Paul Ryan and happened despite being in the majority and further consolidated Trump’s power over the GOP.
For realignment to happen, watch where the Establishment Republicans go and how quickly. As shown above, they are the smallest faction within either party, and most would love to separate from the Full Trumpers. Fear of being primaried remains the trickiest part of their calculus. However, if Full Trumpers are able to strip Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney of her leadership position and events lead to at least 17 Republican Senators voting to convict Trump of impeachment charges, the realignment could accelerate.
After all, the events of Jan. 6 did not endear Establishment Republicans with their own party. Trump dubbed most of them part of the “Surrender Caucus,” which made them as much targets of the Jan. 6 mob as Democrats were.
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has already mused publicly about whether she stays in the Republican Party. It would be unlikely for her to become a full-fledged Democrat, but just becoming a non-caucusing independent could cause other moderate senators to gravitate that way and eventually unify with the Establishment Dems.
Such a realignment – provided it leaves the Full Trumpers permanently sidelined – would actually qualify as an example of “what does not kill us, makes us stronger.” It would because the rank racism and fascism of the Trump years will have been soundly defeated and a combined Establishment party would be more socially liberal than the current Republican Party, and Progressives would have the powers of a full party to continue to work toward pro-voter change.
But then again, so much in politics can change at a moment’s turn. Look no further than 9/11 plunging America into two prolonged wars, the legalization of gay marriage in 2015, and Trump’s double surprises in 2016 winning the GOP nomination and then the White House.