In the late 1950s and early 1960s, my family lived with my grandparents. In their house, I came to respect my grandfather as a lifelong Republican. He and most other Republicans at that time believed that the GOP adhered to policies of fiscal responsibility, personal accountability, standing with allies and against adversaries, family, community and opportunity.
The GOP then was a large tent. But today’s GOP has lost its way. And without an inclusionary GOP, can our two-party system survive?
With the triumph of Donald Trump in 2016, those traditional attributes of the Republican Party have been replaced by personal greed, nepotism, corruption, pettiness, vindictiveness and victimhood. Trump’s policies, in contrast to my grandfather’s political party, espouse an expansive role of the executive, personal intervention in the lives of ordinary people and an explicit weakening of the legitimacy of our democratic institutions.
As we now have become all too aware, Trump has legitimized white supremacists and has praised supporters of the QAnon conspiracy movement. He has attacked the electoral process, the military, our intelligence community, the courts, the media and the post office. A bipartisan Senate report recently revealed that the Trump campaign actively accepted foreign intervention by Russian intelligence agents in the 2016 election. And, finally — if there is ever a finally — many of Trump’s key officials have been indicted, convicted, and/or are in jail.
Trump and his enablers have transformed the party my grandfather respected and supported for so many years into the Radical Right. It could be argued that the GOP has mutated into the QOP. The GOP establishment has allowed fringe loonies from QAnon to assume their place in the party.
How did this happen? Upon Trump’s surprise victory, members of the Republican establishment made a deal with Trump that, in exchange of traditional Republican beliefs, values and policies, they would benefit from being associated with power as long as they remain personally loyal to Trump. This Faustian bargain is the basis of the party today. For sheer power, the GOP gave up its heart and soul and strayed from the values of millions of people, including my grandfather.
As a lifelong Democrat, I should rejoice in the inevitable implosion of this political rival. But I don’t. I fear for our political system if the GOP remains captive to Trump’s cult of personality, victimhood and corruption. I strongly support a two-party system, but for this to work effectively and as fairly as possible, the system requires political parties to be inclusive by creating the large tent. Each party needs to include as many interests as possible along this political continuum.
Neither party can afford to be exclusionary or only accepting radical fringe elements. In two-party political systems, voters are loath to “waste” their votes on a third-party candidate who is unlikely to win. Moreover, the “winner takes all” format in Electoral College limits the success of a third party. The GOP today is lurching to be the party of only the Radical Right, a minor third party.
The 2020 election is pivotal for our traditional two-party system. If Trump loses, the GOP must find its leaders from a group espousing authentic Republican values. And they must isolate Mitch McConnell and push Trump aside as the leader of the party. Trump will become irrelevant. This revitalized GOP must deepen and broaden the big tent of the GOP that my grandfather once supported.
If that happens, the traditional two-party system will survive, and our democratic institutions will remain intact. However, if Trump wins, the Republican party essentially is dead and thus our two-party competitive political system will be weakened.
It is imperative that the QOP revert back to the GOP, expelling Trumpers. If not, the QOP will become a third party in American politics and our democratic institutions and values will be further eroded.
Howard Lehman is a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Utah.