Cowan: Are Trump, Sanders making better parties by dividing them?

Donald Trump is causing a civil war.

Defying the odds and political experts alike, Trump has amassed a considerable following and an astounding delegate count throughout his campaign success. What many Republicans thought would be a business blowhard making his latest publicity stunt has turned into a debacle that is shaking the GOP to its very foundation. Party leaders from around the nation have called for every option to stop Trump’s growing momentum.

Just what has Trump done to cause such a movement against him?

Experts around the nation have summarized Trump’s brand of Republicanism as the culmination of years of unchecked and dogmatic language against Obama and the Democratic Party. Others see his candid demeanor as profoundly revolutionary.

His refusal to speak “politically correctly” has turned a routine election into an intriguing, dramatic battle of laughable wits between his unique political style and an institution that many see as frustratingly gridlocked.

Regardless, what Trump has become (and what Sanders has become on the other side) is a manifestation of ideals, and this is what scares the parties: they present actual actions on rhetoric that has largely been angry and unimaginative.

This dawn of Trumpism — defined by his candor and refusal to play by the traditional rules of politics — is asking the Republican party to accept a leader who they are not sure they can stand behind. His questionable condoning of violence and perceived racism is incompatible with Republicanism for many, while some see the growing masses behind him and believe his rise is inevitable.

Between these two ideologies, the Republican party is beginning to divide as officials align themselves under either Trump or the new Mitt Romney-led #NeverTrump coalition.

A Trump nomination can mean two things: the Republican Party endorses a man the public has called xenophobic, bigoted, racist and misogynistic, further marking their descent into a more polarized party; or they can choose to divide the party in hopes of reconstructing a more moderate but functional party.

As Lee Drutman from Vox reported, the United States has reached peak polarization, which somewhat explains the enthusiasm for populist figures like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Parties have adopted incommensurable stances on key issues and voter divisions are deeper than ever, resulting in a full governmental shutdown in 2013 that cost the country $24 billion as neither party wished to concede to the other.

Candidates promising productivity through Congress are tallying votes, which raises an interesting question: Can these radical nominees solve America’s partisan problem?

The dissension between Trump’s coalitions and the Republican base has forced the party to divide itself in hopes that it can find common ground between its own supporters. As Drutman surmises, this newfound diversity in ideologies will hopefully pressure the party to concede its staunch commitment to its traditional beliefs. This may force an acceptance of differing ideals between its own members, therefore broadening the base beliefs of the party and allowing for more opportunity for cooperation with members of the opposite party that share the same beliefs.

In a nutshell, this division cutting the staple parties in half may very well be the unifier for the two historic rivals — in order for the system to be built back up, it must first be torn down.

For many voters, seeing Trump for more than his uncouth attitude is impossible — let alone seeing him as something that the American government needs. Sanders, though less divisive, is creating a similar phenomenon on the Democratic side, as his venture to the far left is raising questions as to just what being a Democrat means.

It’s raucous, unsettling, delectably entertaining and best of all, it leans towards a future of American government that could be bright and hopefully absent of the gridlock besmirching the Obama administration’s partisan tenure.

Regardless, what Trump has become (and what Sanders has become on the other side) is a manifestation of ideals, and this is what scares the parties: they present actual actions on rhetoric that has largely been angry and imaginative. While the future is continuing to be analyzed, the present brand that the nominees have left on the party image is irreparable, and that “damage” has the potential to be the solution to the partisan problem, if not in this election, then in races to come.

By going against the grain, Sanders and Trump are intriguing voters in ways that candidates have not done for quite a while, and this intrigue will hopefully lead voters to expand the policies of their parties and open up discussions across the aisle. After all, there’s only one other approach to be afraid of, and it’s already so familiar — politics as usual.


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Alec Cowan

Alec Cowan