The party is over. Last one out, turn out the lights.
This week, we’ve seen both grassroots conservatives and elitist establishment-types threaten to leave the Republican Party. Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard tweeted:
Crowd-sourcing: Name of the new party we’ll have to start if Trump wins the GOP nomination? Suggestions welcome at email@example.com
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) December 20, 2015
Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal accused anyone supporting Donald Trump or Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) of wanting to lose to Hillary Clinton. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough said that former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour would prefer Hillary to be president rather than have Trump be the nominee. The Hill reported that establishment donors were looking outside the Party for someone. Politico’s Jeff Greenfield reported that “Trump running as a Republican could well face a third-party run – from the Republicans themselves.”
Meanwhile, grassroots conservatives, enraged with the Republican Party’s willingness to take their money and beg for their vote, only to turn over spending to the congressional minority Democrats, are ready to push the eject button, as well. On Tuesday, evangelical icon Franklin Graham wrote that he had left the Republican Party to re-register as an independent:
I have no hope in the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, or tea party to do what is best for America. Unless more godly men and women get in this process and change this wicked system, our country is in for trouble. I want to challenge Christians, even pastors, across the country to pray about running for office where they can have an impact.
He’s not the only one. Rush Limbaugh said in the wake of Paul Ryan’s massive omnibus cave to the Democrats, “There is no Republican Party. … You know, we don’t even need a Republican Party if they’re going to do this.” He added, “It is as though Nancy Pelosi is still running the House and Harry Reid is still running the Senate. ‘Betrayed’ is not even the word here. What has happened here is worse than betrayal. Betrayal is pretty bad – but it’s worse than that.”
So, who exactly is left?
If the elites in the Party win – if they manage to oust the conservative base they apparently despise – the GOP becomes a hierarchy without a foundation. If the grassroots win, the GOP becomes an unorganized entity without the funding to run national campaigns.
This isn’t unprecedented in American political history. As I wrote back in early 2015, the disintegration of the Whig Party was pooh-poohed by leaders at the time, but eventually gave birth to Lincoln’s Republican Party. Senator William Seward, a New York Whig, said at the time, “No new party will arise, nor will any old one fall.” Seward thought that if the Whigs just ignored slavery, they could hold the Party together.
But without the slavery issue, there was no serious distinction between the Whigs and the Democrats. When the Whigs tried to elide that issue, Southern Whigs went to the short-lived American Party, and northern Whigs went Republican.
Today’s big, divisive issues are more common: illegal immigration divides the Party, as do abortion and same-sex marriage. But the biggest issue is an attitudinal one: is the job of the Republicans to stop the Democrats with every tool at their disposal, or to hold hands with Democrats to keep big government running, with the faint hope that at some point, Republicans will take total power and then pare the state around the edges?
That divide isn’t an easy one to bridge. And indeed, like the Whig divide, it’s sectional. Red state Republicans are perfectly happy to watch the federal government struggle through the Founders’ checks and balances; they don’t want a powerful central government. Blue state Republicans think that the struggles of checks and balances create unpredictability and thus financial insecurity, and worry that red state Republican social priorities alienate those who would side with them on cash issues.
The Republican Party will likely come down at some point in the near future. The question is whether we’re already at the breaking point. If Trump wins the nomination, we will be; if the establishment uses any nefarious means to deprive Trump or Ted Cruz of the nomination, we will be; if the establishment gets one of its favorites through a primary process that heavily favors establishment candidates, and that candidate loses to Hillary Clinton, we could be.
Not very bright prospects for a Party that controls the Senate and House, as well as 32 governorships and 68 of 98 partisan state legislative chambers. Then again, the state Republican Party doesn’t look much like the national Republican Party, and vice versa.
Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News, Editor-in-Chief of DailyWire.com, and The New York Times bestselling author, most recently, of the book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014). Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.