Party systems and Donald Trump

So, I had a really fun conversation on Friday with a number of new NCSU Park Scholars (the best and brightest with the full NCSU scholarship).    I fielded a number of good questions on Donald Trump, third parties, and the nature of the US Party system.  I got back to my office and read this piece in Vox and was amazed at how much of the same ground was explored.  This covers a tremendous amount of good stuff on party systems in the US and Europe, third parties, ideology in US versus Europe, Donald Trump, etc., in a pretty short amount of space.  Well worth your time.  That said, as always, my favorite parts anyway:

There are indigenous reasons why Donald Trump — a demagogic, incompetent, racist ignoramus — is one of only two people who have a chance to become the next president of the United States. Trump’s rise, for example, can certainly be linked to the lazy American veneration of “practical” knowledge that the successful “self-made” businessman is alleged to provide. (Such men were seen even in the early 19th century as … “an overwhelming counterpoise to reflection in this country,” as Richard Hofstadter put it in his 1963 book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life.) But it is really the unique structure of our political system and the historical development of the Republican Party that has converted Trump from a cheap pop-cultural laugh to a national menace…

In the United States, the ethno-nationalist candidate heads a major party

It’s true that all over Europe, ethno-nationalist splinter parties have taken increasingly larger percentages of the vote in recent elections, a development correlated with an increasing influx of noncitizens to these nations. But none of these parties have come close to gaining even a large plurality, let alone a majority of voters, in any one country…

This means that while it is easier in Europe than the United States to create reasonably successful secondary parties with extreme anti-immigrant, ethno-nationalist views — parties hostile to liberal values — at the same time such parties tend to remain subordinate to major parties…

In the United States, however, there is no place for the sizable minority of racist and ethno-nationalist voters to go except within a major party. And there is also no place for elites of that party to go. If this were Europe, Reince Priebus, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell might accept some tactical support from an interloping right-wing party but vigorously distance themselves from that party’s more noxious views and its leading politicians. Here, they can’t renounce Trump without renouncing the muscle and bones of their own political organization and its nominating convention… [emphasis mine]

The Republican Party is unlike any other major or minor conservative party in the advanced world

The Republican Party is not only a major party — which, in fact, controls most of the state governments in the United States — it is also sui generis in its ideology. Ethno-nationalist parties in Western Europe, and also the mainstream conservative parties there, do not oppose the large welfare states in their respective nations. Rather, members of the ethno-nationalist parties tend to be what political scientists have called “welfare chauvinists”: They endorse full public services and social insurance for native-born citizens only, seeking to cut off new immigrants…

Ethno-nationalist or not, European rightist parties accept the central tenets of the mixed economy. By contrast, following the juridical collapse of the white supremacist “solid South” of the Democratic Party and the dramatic cultural and economic changes forged by the Civil Rights and feminist movements, the Republican Party, over time, came to encompass racially and culturally anxious white Southern voters. These voters joined with the party’s existing anti-“big government” and anti-union business class that had vehemently opposed the New Deal.

In short, those in opposition to the federal government’s regulation of the economy and defense of workers by labor unions combined in a single party with those who feared the end of racial and gender norms and hierarchies in social and family life. While elderly white Republicans came to enjoy the Social Security and Medicare of their own dedicated welfare state — a kind of welfare gerontocracy, as opposed to the European right’s welfare chauvinism — they resisted the expansion of similar programs to others deemed less deserving.

Plenty more good stuff.  Read it.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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