RNC 2016: Goodbye Big Tent?

Every so often someone asks the question, “what’s the problem with the Republican Party?” Or the more provocative, “Is it time to hijack the Republican Party for [insert your preferred ideology]?”

Now though, with the nomination of Donald Trump, some ask “Is the Republican Party dead?” But overlooked in all of these questions is the underlying answer: we Republicans are terrible at building coalitions.

The Neoconservatives, the Paleo-Conservatives, the Libertarians, the TEA Party, the Moderates, the “AltRight”; all groups with policy interests and a desire to use the GOP to fit those interests. Yet at some point over the past few years, the GOP began acting less like a Big Tent, and more like a one-man-side-show. In the 2014 midterms, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell faced primary challenges from political nobodies for not being “conservative enough.”

The benchmark for worthiness, of course, was derived by measuring pure philosophical principles against policies enacted during a divided-government. After an egregious primary season that focused less on what it meant to be a Republican than it did on what it meant to have ideological purity, one official was ousted and the other survived. But just when Republicans thought they had put these side shows behind them, enter the 2016 Presidential race.

By the time of the first Presidential debates, seventeen candidates from all ends of the spectrum showed up to express their vision for the next four years. The primaries are supposed to embody the best of the Big Tent, each person has their say and may the best man (or woman) win. Party conventions, then, become a time for members to rally around the winner and celebrate the things that unite us.

Donald Trump, though, cannot seem to give up attacking those who refuse to support him. After the Rules Committee defeated a so-called “conscience clause” which would’ve allowed RNC delegates a free vote on the nomination, Donald Trump took to Twitter to boastfully declare that the #NeverTrump movement was over.

But in politics nothing is ever truly over. Yes, Donald Trump won more delegates than anyone else, yes that entitles him to the nomination, no, it does not mean he’s entitled to my vote. Or at least that is the answer we in the Never Trump crowd have groomed ourselves to give.

I wrote some time ago about how not voting for the Republican nominee means you need to be content with the Democratic nominee winning in November. I still believe that, but now that Trump is the nominee of the Republican Party one must ask themselves if there is still room for you in the Party.

It’s a question each must answer for themselves, but how we respond will either continue to chip away at or strengthen the Republican coalition. To some, this may not matter, the GOP was never more than a vehicle for their ideological agenda and another vehicle can always be found. Others suggest that the GOP is still the best hope against the larger threat of Progressivism.

As much as it pains me to see Trump at the top of the ticket, I have not yet brought myself to leave the Party. Maybe it’s because of history, family lore sends our Republican voting credentials back to Coolidge. Perhaps it’s hubris, I’m still savoring the last morsels of an energizing, banner-carrying, collegiate experience before they become diluted by the reality of what has become of the GOP. Or I could just be stubborn, the Party is over and I’m simply overstaying my welcome. I hope this is not the case, I hope there is still a place in the GOP for me and people who think like me in the years to come.

But now, House Speaker Paul Ryan faces a primary challenge for the same crime of apostasy that plagued Cantor and McConnell. Now the mantra of Trump supporters has become “If you are not with us, you are against us.” Notice the wall being built around the person making that statement. If Trump refuses to change his attitude towards dissenters, and we remain complacent in our attitudes toward coalition building, the Republican Party stands to lose a lot more than just another election.

About Evan Schrage

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Evan is a law student at Loyola University Chicago. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2015, where he was a member of the College of Social Science's Political Science Scholar Program. You can follow him on Twitter: @EvanSchrage