Wednesday night Ted Cruz spoke for the Republican Party, and Thursday night Donald Trump spoke as a law-and-order Democrat running under the GOP banner. The closest Republican politician to Trump, on the political grid, is Richard Nixon.
In Nixon’s time, it was a call for the “Silent Majority” to rise up and take back the country. Trump spoke to the “forgotten men and women” who he said no longer have a voice in a rigged political system run by “censors” and “cynics.”
His target audience remains white, mostly working-class, Americans bruised by economic change and worried about cultural changes. But the coalitions that elected both Nixon and Reagan — that silent majority of 1968 or the Reagan Democrats of 1980 — have been diluted by demographic change. Trump’s gamble is that he can still find and mobilize enough of them to prove his critics wrong again.
Using Reagan’s slogan “Make America Great Again™” and Nixon’s rhetoric, Trump’s message resonates with disaffected Democrats, whose party has moved so far left that there’s no discernible difference between them and most European socialist parties (that’s because there is in fact no difference).
Cruz’s speech, even through bitterness, framed a more Reaganesque Republican Party, with a focus on liberty and freedom. Trump’s freedom is through security, law and order, and global hegemony. That’s never been what has made America great.
There are really now two parties. The party that nominated Trump is not really the Republican Party of which Cruz spoke. The fact that Trump supporters and GOP leaders want the actual Republican Party to endorse the ersatz, Democrat-authoritarian-nationalist version shows how scared they are of losing their influence, and their jobs, should the actual Republican Party be restored.
But it’s too late. All the sponges in the world can’t wipe this clown paint off the face of the GOP. Come November, should Trump lose, they’ll all claim they just did it for the sake of “unity.” But the real Republicans know they did it for themselves. If Trump wins (which, as I wrote, is a more real possibility if he sticks to the message in the speech for three months), these weak-kneed followers will be begging the Orange Throne for his ear, while he rides roughshod over them.
I say the split has already happened. All pledges aside, on November 9, 2016, I would love to see a new party rise up, led by actual conservatives in the tradition of Lincoln and Reagan. This isn’t #NeverTrump sour grapes–it’s a sober recognition that there are two parties trying to share one banner. It’s time to quit pretending while the GOP turns into the Whigs of 1840.