Donald Trump really isn’t a modern Republican by any measure of the term. His policies, such as they are, combine populist and nationalist concepts from across the political spectrum with a smattering of old-style Republican economics. They are more slogans than plans. It really isn’t clear how much of any of it is heartfelt belief and how much is cynical salesmanship. The fact of his near success is a testament to the powerful yearning of so many for a safer, simpler time.
I believe he is more properly thought of as a third-party candidate, but one who cleverly hijacked the Republican Party infrastructure to his needs. As such, he is far and away the most successful such candidate since Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 and maybe for all time. If not as a politician or even as a human being, he deserves real credit for his accomplishment in this role. A better man with his talents just might have gone all the way to the White House. But then, of course, a better man wouldn’t have chosen his methods so we will never know.
The question remains whether Trump’s imprint on his Republican Party host will persist after the likely deluge next month. I suspect that it will, for a simple reason. The GOP as it was before Trump was demographically doomed. Some basic change was always necessary but the dinosaurs leading the party had no idea how to accomplish this. After their defeats by Obama they tried to see a way forward and even wrote a plan of action, but the necessary changes were simply too great to swallow. In any case, they would have moved the party uncomfortably closer to the center.
One possibility is a schism, perhaps similar to Teddy’s Bull Moose Party. But that requires a leader to arise from the establishment rather than from the outside. I see no one with the necessary talent and daring. But this I do predict: if a substantial centrist party ever arose and began to flourish, it would sweep the boards. Both of our current major parties show signs of decrepitude.