Thursday, October 13, 2016

Growing identity crisis leaves the GOP in tatters

Posted By on Thu, Oct 13, 2016 at 3:26 PM

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Great humorists know the line separating comedy and tragedy is a fine one.

Consider the jest by the immortal Will Rogers. He said once that Democrats form a firing squad by arranging themselves in a circle and then shooting back toward the center.

Substitute the word “Republicans” for “Democrats” and what Rogers meant as a joke becomes prophecy.

The GOP now is in tatters.

USA Today reports that more than a quarter of America’s Republican U.S. senators, governors and members of the U.S. House of Representatives now say they cannot support presidential nominee Donald Trump’s candidacy. Four years ago, only three such Republican officeholders refused to back 2012 nominee Mitt Romney.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, has said he no longer will campaign with or support Trump. Trump has reciprocated by referring to Ryan as a disaster as speaker and saying he no longer wants nor would he accept Ryan’s help.

Two Republican senators locked in tough re-election campaigns, John McCain of Arizona and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, have renounced their support sand said they no longer can march with Trump. Trump has responded by calling for a purge of party turncoats.

The trigger for this eruption into open warfare was the revelation of a 2005 recording of Trump talking about women in vulgar, misogynist terms and describing actions that constitute sexual assault.

But, long before the release of the conversation, there had been much internal skirmishing and below-the-surface feuding.

A lot – but not all – of the tension can be laid at Trump’s feet.

His campaign to win the nomination had all the subtlety and seductiveness of a hostile takeover. Most presidential candidates understand that pulling a party together after a divisive primary season involves wooing vanquished opponents and assuring their supporters they will be treated with respect.

Trump went at party-building another way.

When he’s in a good mood, he tells other Republicans to kiss his ring. When he’s in a bad mood – which is most of the time – he orders them to smooch lower.

But it would be mistake to say the GOP’s civil war is all Trump’s fault.

Some of the tensions within the party simmered long before Trump began his rise. Social conservatives and business conservatives often haven’t seen eye to eye – and the emergence of the tea party and the alt-right have called into question the very definition of what it means to be a conservative.

Republicans aren’t just fighting over who calls the shots within the party.

They’re battling, tooth-and-nail, fangs-bared, with each other over who they are.

Such internecine strife will make it much harder for Republicans to prevail on Nov. 8. It is tough for candidates to make the case they can govern the country when they can’t even govern their own party.

Democrats, of course, have reacted to all this with glee.

Here in Indiana, they’re already targeting Republican gubernatorial candidate Eric Holcomb, U.S. Senate candidate Todd Young and congressional candidates Trey Hollingsworth and Susan Brooks, in particular, with messages aimed at forcing those GOP candidates to make a difficult choice.

Embrace Trump and risk offending women voters across the state.

Disavow Trump and alienate The Donald’s still sizable minority of devout supporters.

The passions Trump stirs up are so great that there doubtless are Americans and Hoosiers who see this meltdown of the Republican Party as a good thing.

It isn’t.

American political parties do not function well without credible opposition.

The checks and balances about which we Americans love to boast aren’t written into our constitution. The phrase doesn’t even appear in that august document.

No, the real checks and balances are woven into the fabric of our history and our experience by custom. We use parties to make sure that one faction – one segment of the population – doesn’t have unfettered sway over the entire nation, state or city.

When one party does have unchecked control, bad things happen.

The Republican Party now is tiptoeing on the edge of collapse.

While it can be tempting to see Donald Trump as a clown and the GOP’s wind-milling gyrations to regain balance as the stuff of slapstick, we must remember that fundamental truth.

The line separating comedy and tragedy is a fine one.

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About The Author

John Krull

John Krull

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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