Donald Trump and the Republican Party have shared a largely turbulent relationship throughout Trump’s stint in the White House and his 2016 presidential campaign. He made very few friends during the Republican primary, taking almost every chance he got to insult his fellow candidates. Not only that, but Trump comes up with crude nicknames for most of his political adversaries, many of which are within his own party; he’s been publicly feuding with Republican Senators Jeff “Flakey” and “Liddle” Bob Corker, just to name a couple of examples. Why would the elites of the Republican Party put up with the constant public embarrassment associated with having a President who demonstrates such little respect for his own party? Paul Ryan, the current Speaker of the House, and Mitch McConnell, the current Senate Majority Leader, have been noted for their perceived weakness in their dealings with President Trump. Personally, I believe that their lack of ability to control Trump does not stem from their weakness, it stems from their willingness to work with an individual in Trump who has demonstrated very little allegiance to the political system that allowed him rise to the highest office in the world. If we assume that President Trump is in fact a threat to democracy, I believe that the Republican Party could be considered a semi-loyal opposition party based on Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan’s concept of disloyal, semi-loyal, and loyal opposition parties.
According to Linz and Stepan, a disloyal opposition is one that “questions the existence of the regime and aims at changing it.” Essentially, disloyal parties fundamentally disagree with the established political system within which they are operating. Democratic regimes are especially susceptible to such disloyal threats, as this political system theoretically has room for all types of political factions. Disloyal parties can attempt to come to power while operating within the legal boundaries of a political regime, and then attempt to dismantle or change the regime from within. As a candidate and a President, Donald Trump could be considered disloyal to American democracy; he criticized entrenched, bureaucratic politics throughout his presidential campaign, and vowed to “drain the swamp” and run the country like a business. He frequently attacks democratic ideals and engages in highly divisive tactics. Conversely, a loyal opposition may oppose other parties within the political system, but they are loyal to the system itself. Semi-loyal parties, the authors posit, are much more difficult to define as they can take many forms. The easiest way to understand a semi-loyal opposition is that they are more likely to cooperate with disloyal parties and actors than parties at the opposite end of the political spectrum who operate loyally within the system. When it seemed more than unlikely that Donald Trump had any shot of emerging from the Republican Primary, Republican party elites were dismissive of Trump and his inflammatory comments. Once he won the primary race, party elites like McConnell, Ryan, and Reince Priebus demonstrated an enhanced ability to work with The Donald. Now that the Republican Party controls the White House and both houses of Congress, it is clear that party elites would rather work with a man who can be considered disloyal to the American democratic system than Democrats within that very system.
Events that have recently transpired only serve to confirm the belief that the Grand Old Party has become increasingly semi-loyal. At times, Mitt Romney has seemed like Donald Trump’s greatest critic and enemy within the Republican Party. At one point during the 2016 presidential race, Romney called Donald Trump a “fraud who was playing the American public for suckers.” Trump has always been quick to respond to Romney’s pointed statements with his own; he frequently references how Romney “choked like a dog” during his presidential race against Barack Obama in 2012. Recently, Mitt Romney announced that he would be running to replace Orrin Hatch, a United States Senator from Utah. As Romney is clearly the favorite to win the race, President Trump was stuck between a rock and a hard place. He needs Republican support to create any kind of change, even if it comes from a formal rival. Eventually, he did endorse Romney in the race, tweeting that he would make a great Senator and replacement for Hatch. Romney’s response concerned me greatly. As such an open critic of the President, I expected that he might acknowledge the endorsement in a more luke-warm fashion. He did, however, accept the President’s approval. Romney even went so far as to discuss the aspects of Trump’s positions that he does agree with, “I‘m with the president’s domestic policy agenda of low taxes, low regulation, smaller government, pushing back against the bureaucrats,” Romney said. While he did qualify this by saying he would continue to speak out against the President when he disagrees with Trump’s rhetoric or actions, these type of statements are deeply disconcerting. To me, this provides even more evidence that the Republican Party will continue to support the President, even though he continues to present a threat to American democratic ideals.
The Republican Party is demonstrating to the American electorate that they are willing to tolerate the damaging behavior and comments of the President as long as it means they maintain power in the Executive and Legislative branches. Even some of Trump’s biggest critics are beginning to accept his behavior if electoral success is on the line, as evidenced by Mitt Romney. President Trump has time and time again criticized and threatened the American political system, leading some to deem him a threat to democracy as we know it. If we utilize Linz and Stepan’s concept of a disloyal opposition and apply it to President Trump, then we can just as easily attribute the concept of a semi-loyal opposition to the Republican Party. They are clearly more willing to work with Trump than with their liberal, Democratic colleagues. As time passes, even former enemies of Trump begin to realize it is easier to work with him than work against him. In this way, the Republican Party is consenting to the slow destruction of our political system to an increasing degree.
Linz, Juan J., and Alfred Stepan, eds. The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes: Europe . Vol. 2. JHU Press, 1978.
Shepardson, David. “Trump endorses Romney in run for U.S. Senate seat in Utah.” Reuters. Accessed March 2, 2018. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-trump-romney/trump-endorses-romney-in-run-for-u-s-senate-seat-in-utah-idUSKCN1G406B