Friday,17 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1316, (20 - 26 October 2016)
Friday,17 August, 2018
Issue 1316, (20 - 26 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Trump versus the Republican Party

An anti-establishment movement has emerged in the US political system that comes from the political right as well as the left, and could presage the collapse of the traditional two-party system, writes Said Okasha in Washington

Al-Ahram Weekly

US presidential candidate Donald Trump launched a vehement attack against a group of Republican Party leaders who had asked him to withdraw from the campaign or who had publicly withdrawn their support for him after the release of the 2005 recordings exposing his vulgar and misogynistic attitudes towards women. Foremost among those at the receiving end of Trump’s wrath were speaker of the House of Representatives Paul D Ryan and Senator John McCain who had been the Republican candidate for president in 2008.

Trump saw the campaign against him by a large number of Republican politicians as a chance to free himself from the authority of the party. He accused party leaders who had been set against him during the Republican primaries of withholding political and material support after he was officially named the party’s presidential candidate. Describing those people as weak, he maintained that their stances were worthless and would not affect his electoral battle against the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s detractors within the Republican camp fear that if he remains in the race until the end, regardless of whether or not he wins, it would cause the Republicans to lose both houses of Congress. Katrina Pierson, spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, sees the situation the other way around. Judging by the phone-ins to campaign headquarters, most Trump supporters were now uncomfortable giving their votes to the Republicans running for Congress, she said.


ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT REVOLUTION AND HISTORICAL IRONY: This may be one of those rare moments in modern US history in which the anti-establishment voice has gained such force that it is shaking the foundations of two major political party establishments, the Democratic and Republican parties. Moreover, today, the tide of anger against the conventional institutions did not originate solely from the left, as was the case with the youth movements that emerged in their diverse forms in the late 1960s. This time, the discontent spans the entire American political spectrum, from the far right to the far left, or from the Tea Party movement, which gained notoriety and became the subject of innumerable studies and commentaries four years ago, to the anarchistic “Occupy Wall Street” movement that advocates dismantling the institutions of the capitalist system. Circumstances surrounding the selection of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as the Democratic and Republican candidates respectively offer further evidence of the phenomenon. According to opinion polls, 68 per cent of Republican Party members and about 50 per cent of Democratic voters opposed Trump and Hillary’s official nomination as their parties’ representatives in the current presidential race.

What this indicates is that the US political system, which is built primarily around those two parties and the socio-political interplay that takes place in the framework of the rotation of authority between them, is threatened with collapse. It also suggests that the current anti-establishment movements or forces are less concerned with the ideological or political differences between them than they are with their shared goal of undermining or even tearing down that system.

There have been several notable manifestations of the tide of American voters turning away from the political party establishments:

- The ability of Bernie Sanders, noted for his social democratic almost socialist discourse, to wage a neck-to-neck race for the Democratic candidacy against his rival Hillary Clinton, who is more representative of that party’s political structure and ideology.

- No American politician has taken on established institutions, including the very party that nominated him, with the audacity and fierceness of Donald Trump. Nevertheless, he was the nominee who was ultimately named that party’s contender in the battle for the White House.

- In spite of Trump’s attack against key Republican Party leaders, none of these appear able to convince the party to stop its support for Trump and force him to withdraw from the campaign.

In light of the foregoing, and given the little time that remains until election day, the chances of more Republican leaders coming out against Trump appear slim. At the same time, the fear that Trump’s continuation in the race will jeopardise the prospects of Republican candidates in the Congressional races seems unwarranted. Even if the Republicans lose their majority in Congress, it would be difficult to prove a direct relationship between that and Trump’s continuation in the race. The American electorate has been historically inclined to strike a balance between the executive and legislative authorities, ensuring that no one party controls both the White House and a Congressional majority at the same time. Accordingly, a Trump loss would statistically favour a higher ratio of Republican representation in Congress and vice versa.

Trump, for his part, has stated clearly that, if he becomes president, he would punish the Republican Party leaders who ganged up against him. In other words, the man who set himself on a partial collision course against the Republican Party establishment is prepared to wreak more havoc that would weaken the party further. This can only work in favour of the Democrats now, in terms of its impact in the election in November, and in the future, in terms of its impact on the party’s internal cohesion and stability.

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