Trump wins: What happens now to the Republican party?

How a Trump presidency may reshape the Republican party in six key areas

Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, NY on Monday April 18, 2016. (Jabin Botsford/Washington Post/Getty)

(Jabin Botsford/Washington Post/Getty)

WASHINGTON – Donald Trump’s victory could lead to far-reaching, long-term changes in American politics. He has radically departed from some of the orthodoxies of the Republican party, based for decades in the principles of smaller government, freer trade, and a hawkish military stance.

Every few generations American politics undergoes a realignment _ where members start disagreeing with their own party, work across the aisle, and ultimately scatter to new political homes. The last such phenomenon occurred as a result of civil-rights debates.

The GOP now has several major decisions to make about its future, and what it stands for:


An early sign of what’s ahead will come in the selection of the next congressional leadership. It seemed only yesterday Paul Ryan was the fair-haired boy. Republicans pleaded with him to accept their vacant House speaker’s post, as the only palatable option to unite the party’s restive factions: the pro-business wing, staunch conservatives, nationalist populists and libertarians. That was then. He now faces a potential mutiny. Ryan’s crime: Being unenthusiastic about Trump, which infuriated the grassroots and some elected members. We’ll soon know whether he, or anyone else, can herd these cats.


There could be a litmus test soon for whether Trump’s anti-trade stance becomes permanent Republican doctrine: the Trans-Pacific Partnership. A year-and-a-half of Trump’s trade-bashing has already had a dramatic effect – a recent poll showed a whopping 85 per cent of Republicans said trade has cost the U.S. more jobs than it’s created, compared with 54 per cent of Democrats. It’s a stunning, sudden reversal of roles for the parties. Already facing a possible leadership mutiny, would Ryan dare push ahead with the 12-country TPP during Barack Obama’s final two months, when his own party’s president-elect opposes it? Many countries will be watching, including Canada.

Immigration and race:

The party’s 2012 election post-mortem urged greater engagement with Latinos, warning of a ticking demographic time-bomb for Republicans. The grassroots decided otherwise. It blocked immigration reform, and amnesty for undocumented people. Then it nominated Donald Trump – who referred to Mexicans as rapists and drug-dealers in his campaign launch speech. Trump also spoke about banning Muslim visitors, before dialling it back. It didn’t hurt him politically. In his victory speech, Trump promised to work for people of all races and religions. But what lessons will Republicans draw from this election?

Foreign affairs:

Obama summarized the party’s monumental flip-flop: “You (Republicans) used to criticize me for even talking to the Russians. Now suddenly you are okay with your nominee having a bromance with Putin?” The party used to sound belligerent about Russia _ calling Obama soft. Then it defended a nominee who questioned the purpose of NATO; encouraged Russians to hack his opponent’s emails; and urged rapprochement with Vladimir Putin. Often obscured by his inflammatory language, Trump was, in some ways, arguably the most comparably dovish Republican nominee in decades. He ridiculed the invasion of Iraq and urged a hands-off international approach. Then again, he occasionally suggested bombing the Middle East and taking its oil. The party now faces a choice – will it be an intervention-threatening hawk, or a dove fluttering above the fray of foreign entanglements? The division was bizarrely obvious on the Republican ticket. Trump was indifferent to Russian attacks killing Syrian civilians in defence of Bashar Assad; Mike Pence suggested he favoured bombing Assad regime targets to protect people.

Social policy:

Trump is far less ideologically conservative – on some topics. He agrees with traditional Republicans on slashing taxes, notably for the wealthy. Yet he conflicts with the GOP on social programs. Trump promised a paid maternal-leave program, which the U.S. is the only developed country not to have. He’s promised not to cut old-age pensions, which conservatives like Ryan insist are fiscally unsustainable. Will Republicans go with their president and accept more social spending? Will they push back and seek to stop him? Depending on how these debates pan out, Trump could wind up leaning on Democrats for votes – which could signal a historic partisan shakeup.

Supreme Court:

Trump has promised to appoint conservative judges, and says he’s anti-abortion now. Was that an empty promise made to conservatives in the primary season, or will he seek to reshape the top court in a way that makes it more conservative for a generation. There’s one vacancy already, and three more judges over age 78 on the nine-member court.

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