How Can the Republican Party Survive Donald Trump?

The elephant in the room will have to be addressed soon.

By Brenden Gallagher

Reports of the Republican Party’s death are greatly exaggerated.

As Trump’s circus has engulfed the primary season, liberals have begun to dream that this election cycle might destroy the G.O.P. once and for all. If Donald Trump wins the nomination, they fantasize, he will be so repulsive to the nation’s voters that the Republican Party will crumble at his feet while Trump insists, “It’s not crumbling folks. That’s just dust on the windowsill.”

The other possibility that progressives imagine during medical marijuana induced day dreams is a brokered convention that would so anger Trump’s coalition of out of work factory laborers and white supremacists that they might actually realize that a party built around tax cuts for the rich isn’t helping them very much.

The sad truth is that the Republican Party will continue marching on. To survive, the G.O.P. doesn’t even have to look terribly different than it looks now. It might be slightly less racist. It may offer women something between second and first class citizenship. But, no matter how poorly Trump does in the general, there is still an appetite for a pro-business, pro-war, pro-Christian party in America. Odds are that the old elephant continues to stomp long into the future. Here are some ways that the Republican Party Might Survive Trump.

Wait For A Recession

Economic success is a huge indicator of electoral success. Dan Crawford at the economics blog Angry Bear compared the NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research) record of recessions and depressions with Presidential election results and found that when the economy is bad, incumbents lose two-thirds of the time.

There are a number of factors that indicate we could be headed for a recession, and that if we are, Donald Trump stands to gain. For a deeper dive into the economic realities of the 2016 election, check out this piece by Conor Lynch at Salon where he argues that economic history and looming financial factors could turn the tide for Trump. Voters are kind of like the woman in Blindspot, except they don’t have any tattoos to remind them that trickle down economics sucks and recessions are cyclical. To ensure the kind of Trump loss pundits are predicting, the economy will have to hold until November. If Hillary’s first term ends on an economic sour note, her prospects for re-election could dim.

Move to the Left Just Enough

Many partisans view the American political landscape as black and white. If you are a pro-union voter then you should be pro-environment. If you are hawkish then you are likely to be pro-life. The reality is that many voters are passionate about a particular issue, and their personal experiences have resulted in political beliefs that seem to be strange bedfellows.

In a way, liberals should consider themselves lucky that the Republicans have dragged their feet on every possible social issue. The G.O.P. has been so terrible to Latinos, Blacks, Women, Muslims, and the LGBT Community that it’s hard to imagine a significant percentage of them joining the coalition of pasty old white men who watch World War II documentaries on the History Channel and pasty middle-aged white men who shop at Pier One Imports that the Republican Party has built. The question is how far left the Republicans would have to move on only a handful of issues to change the game. Would policies offering basic humanity to portion of the population that doesn’t play golf, like police body cameras and maternity leave, encourage growth in the G.O.P.?

Immigration Reform

There was a great deal of soul searching after Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2008, and it was the hope of Republican Party insiders that a policy of slight moderation could be tested with immigration reform. Republican Party surrogate Sean Hannity was just one of a number of conservatives to suggest immigration reform was the key to a 2016 victory. He said, “We’ve gotta get rid of the immigration issue altogether. It’s simple for me to fix it. I think you control the border first, you create a pathway for those people that are here, you don’t say, ‘You gotta go home.’ And that is a position that I’ve evolved on.”

Fast forward to 2015. The anointed establishment candidates were JEB! and Little Marco: immigration moderates who in theory talked tough enough on taxes and terrorism to please the base. Soon enough the party’s hardcore isolationists declared that the only suitable immigration policy involves Sheriff Joe Arpaio hog tying Mexican children at the border and these two had to walk back their positions.

The failure of a Latino friendly G.O.P. in 2016 doesn’t mean this attempt to forge a kinder, gentler conservative movement is over. If the Republicans continue to lose national elections, expect more of this kind of recalibrating. With Rand Paul experimenting with criminal justice reform and Kasich’s stab at softened women’s health rhetoric, look for Republicans to keep looking for ways to be just moderate enough.

Focus on Taxes

If you are convinced that your fellow liberals’ commitment to the cause goes deeper than a pet issue or two, scroll through your Facebook feed. How many of your friends have shared this (deeply flawed) tax calculator as a caution against a Sanders vote?

Many liberals care about the marginalized only insofar as it doesn’t affect their bank statement. Even the most liberal candidates this side of Bernie Sanders know that tax hikes are the fastest way to get them booted from office.

Gallup’s long-running poll on tax numbers found that with few exceptions, a majority of Americans have long believed their tax burden to be too high. There is a sizable chunk of the populace who would rather have an in-ground pool than pay into food stamps, and these people are the Republicans’ bread and butter.

Fear

The tragedy of 9/11 had lasting reverberations in American politics that we are still feeling today. Looking back fifteen years, one of the many repercussions stemming from the terror attacks was that the country took a hard turn to the right. Mass surveillance, endless war in the Middle East, tightened immigration restrictions, and xenophobic policies were all part of our national response to terror attacks. A conservative President who lost the popular vote the first time he took the office, won re-election despite a steadily declining approval rating.

Given the fear that Donald Trump has been able to gin up in the wake of relatively small scale attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, it’s hard to imagine that large scale incident on American soil in 2016 wouldn’t push Americans back to the right.

Keep Doing What They’re Doing

Even if none of this comes to pass, the Republican Party may not need the presidency. While the Obama Administration can point to Obamacare, gay marriage, and a less adversarial foreign policy as victories, there have been some big losses. Homophobic laws are being passed throughout the South. Collective bargaining has been attacked in states with Republican governors. States are overriding local minimum wage increases and worker protections. Women’s rights are being chipped away one Planned Parenthood at a time. While Democrats may do well on a macro scale in 2016, the Koch Brothers have ensured that the Republicans continue to play a great local game, using weapons like gerrymandering and model legislation to make local government increasingly conservative. Republicans have netted 69 seats in the House of Representatives, 13 seats in the Senate, 900-plus seats in state legislatures, and 12 governorships since Obama took office.

All that is to say that under President Clinton, the Republicans can just keep doing what they’re doing and they will be just fine.