by Paul Dupont
On March 3, 2015, as the early stages of the Republican presidential primary campaign were just getting under way, our team launched ThePulse2016.com to keep readers like you up to date on the latest developments in the 2016 election. Now, just over 20 months since that day, the 2016 election has finally come to a close.
In those 20 months, the race has taken twists and turns none of us could have expected. From a deep field of well-known Republican political leaders emerged an outsider candidate — Donald Trump — who, although not initially taken seriously, was able to speak to the concerns of many voters in a way no other GOP candidate could. And after shocking the political world by winning the Republican nomination, he pulled off an even bigger upset — overcoming the well-funded and well-organized Democratic election machine and defeating heavy favorite Hillary Clinton.
So, as the country slowly comes to grips with Tuesday night’s results, what can be learned from the events which have transpired over the last 20 months? How should we move forward after such an intensely divisive and emotionally draining campaign? Here are three suggestions:
Although things might seem all fine and dandy after last night’s victories, there’s really no avoiding the underlying reality: the post-Trump GOP is a fractured party.
Some division was to be expected after such a long, spirited primary as we saw earlier this year. However, the rifts created by Trump’s nomination have lingered through the election and are likely only to continue as the various sides battle to influence the president-elect’s agenda. We will almost certainly see a renewed call from the Republican establishment for a sort of “truce strategy,” arguing that the new president ought not to waste his political capital on pursuing, for example, social conservative priorities. There will also perhaps be those who will accuse the party establishment of co-opting Trump’s presidency, especially if certain reforms are slow in arriving.
While some disagreement is, of course, unavoidable, Republicans should not get caught up in an endless power struggle. This will only serve to distract from the real questions which need to be answered: How is it that the party’s voters have become so alienated from its leaders that they chose to support Trump? And how can the GOP and Trump positively work to ensure the concerns of those voters are addressed?
The Republican Party will have to change in light of what has happened in 2016. Changing for the better will require avoiding a protracted civil war.
As with the Republican Party, the conservative movement has also experienced an intense division as a result of the rise of Donald Trump. Some conservatives feel Trump represents a prime opportunity to overturn a stilted Washington establishment and have been willing to support him despite his character flaws and questions about his trustworthiness. Others, fearing the damage Trump might do to conservatism, have planted themselves firmly in #NeverTrump camp, hoping to keep their principles intact by maintaining their distance from him. Naturally, not a little animosity between both sides has been the result here as well.
Now that the election has passed, will Trump continue to be a cause for division among conservatives? Possibly so, especially if Trump fails to fully uphold his campaign promises as president. However, whatever conservatives’ disagreement might be over the prudence of supporting a leader such as Trump, this debate should not take precedence over the more important and pressing post-election questions that must be answered.
Like Republicans, conservatives must ask why so many voters were attracted to Trump in the GOP primary despite the presence of other supposedly more attractive candidates. What does the conservative movement have to offer these disaffected voters, and how can it best make the case that a return to conservative principles is what is needed to solve the problems that ail this country?
And further, with Trump now set to take office next year with a GOP-led Congress, what practical and impactful goals can conservative leaders work toward in the weeks and months ahead?
Conservatives agree on much more than they disagree, and they should not let the heated discord from this past campaign distract from that.
Perhaps you are now sensing a theme to this post. These 2016 elections have revealed incredible divisions, not only within parties or political movements but across the entirety of our country. There seems to be little that unites all Americans anymore.
This is a dangerous condition for a nation. When a people no longer hold anything in common, it is unlikely they can long continue to coexist as a single community. Deeper and more fundamental conflicts will eventually destroy the possibility for discourse and lead to ever more violent confrontation. (The anti-Trump protests of the last two days might reasonably be seen as an early symptom of this condition.)
America must rediscover that which makes it what it is — in other words, what it means to be an American. And it must resist the simplistic answers offered by the demagogues of identity politics, who insist that one’s racial or ethnic or cultural or sexual identity is the primary determinant of one’s worth as an American.
Instead, we must return to the principles on which America is based: namely, the principle that every human being is created in the image of God and therefore has an inherent dignity, and that government has a duty to respect and protect the rights which flow from that dignity.
Here at American Principles Project, we will be working in the coming months to articulate in a more detailed way what these principles mean from a standpoint of public policy and what each and every American can do to help reinvigorate that which truly makes this country great. We hope you will join us in this work.
The United States is about to enter a new chapter in our nation’s history. Now is the time to recommit ourselves to serving our fellow citizens and working to rebuild American society, one step at a time. This is not an opportunity to be wasted.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore