Donald Trump accomplished what libertarians have long attempted to do within the Republican Party. He ran within their primary system and successfully won the nomination even though his ideology was dramatically different. Trumpism and libertarianism are on the opposite ends of the spectrum but it goes to show it can be done. Trump’s victory also provides an example of the consequences of a hostile takeover of a political party. The Republican Party’s identity crisis is worse than ever before. Nebraska GOP Senator Ben Sasse was asked what the GOP stands for and he replied honestly: “I don’t know”.
With what’s happened over the past year it’s no surprise that Sasse wasn’t able to answer that simple question. To which GOP was the reporter referring? It depends on whether they were asking about the pre- or post-Trump Republican Party. Never before has the party had such an ideological conflict between its leader and its base. The principles the party was founded on are being brushed aside by an authoritarian and his cult of personality. That should worry every Republican, conservative, and even libertarians who have long sought to drag the party in the opposite direction.
Factionalism is a natural phenomenon in politics. It’s the reason that political parties exist in the first place. That said, for a major party to function there still needs to be an overarching consensus on core issues. With Donald Trump at its head that’s no longer true for the GOP. Republicans believe in free trade, Trumpists believe in protectionism. Conservatives seek to uphold free speech rights, Trump desires to weaken libel laws. The GOP has consistently supported NATO, Trump has threatened to leave it. Those three examples highlight the differences between the GOP and Trumpists on trade, constitutional rights, and foreign policy but the list goes on.
That doesn’t mean that the war is over. Although Donald Trump won the Republican nomination and subsequently the Presidency, his takeover has been met with resistance. Ben Sasse is a primary example of a principled conservative who is standing up to Trump’s take it or leave it governing. Justin Amash has emerged as a similar figure in the House. Republicans haven’t given up on their party just yet. President Trump may have won the first battle, but the war for the what the GOP stands for is far from over.