The conflict within the GOP over the possibility of a Trump presidential candidacy has laid bare the various divisions within the Republican party. All political parties, to be sure, are composed of factions. The Democrats, however, will have little difficulty agreeing on Hillary Clinton. For some Republicans, Trump is a difficult pill to swallow.
The Republican party is a conservative party, but conservatives come in a variety of flavors. These include paleoconservatives, neoconservatives, social conservatives (Evangelicals and Pentecostals), establishment conservatives and conservative populists..
Trump is a populist. He seeks to mobilize white, working class voters on a platform of ending immigration, bringing jobs home, reducing what he and his supporters believe to be deferential treatment of women and minorities, increased military strength and a less interventionist foreign policy.
The group in the GOP that has the most in common with Trump is sometimes called the “paleoconservative” wing. The paleocons, perhaps exemplified by Pat Buchanan, are nationalists, isolationists, xenophobic, suspicious of free trade, and favorable to the idea of American military dominance. The paleocons, though, are not populists and are somewhat dubious about Trump’s mobilization of white, working class voters, but on other matters they have no problems with the Donald.
Also supportive of Trump are the social conservatives. In secular society, most evangelicals and pentacostals are members of the white working class and are drawn to Trump’s economic ideas. Evangelicals are also staunch nationalists and see in Trump someone who advocates a strong military program. As far as religion is concerned, some Evangelicals and Pentecostals continue to harbor fear of Catholicism, which they distinguish from Christianity, and see Trump’s stand against Latin American, predominantly Catholic immigration as a positive aspect of his candidacy.
Most opposed to Trump are the establishment conservatives who represent the internationalist Republican business elite which is the major source of funding for GOP candidates. Establishment Republicans speak for Wall Street and those elements of the American business community that benefit from free trade and open access to world markets. To this group, Trump’s opposition to free trade and his nationalism and xenophobia are serious threats to the world order that they have forged and from which they continue to profit.
Finally, are the neocons, centered around a number of think tanks and publications. The neocons are usually the intellectual spokespersons–and sometimes the employees of the Republican establishment–so share and articulate establishment views. The neocons are also deeply suspicious of rabble rousing and detest Trump’s efforts to use the media and his bombastic style to mobilize working class voters.
Overlaying these other divisions is a potential conflict of interest between the Republican party’s elected officials and its theoreticians and donors. The elected officials must watch nervously as the struggle within the party plays itself out. While many do not support Trump, they have to consider his impact upon their own electoral chances. A ticket led by Trump might be defeated but might win. Noone is quite certain. What is certain, however, is that if Trump comes close to winning a majority of the delegate votes at the Republican national convention but is then denied the nomination, he and his supporters will cry foul and will refuse to back the Republican nominee. That would be a disaster for GOP congressional and senatorial and gubernatorial and even local candidates.
Thus, we shall see how the Republican party’s elected officials will bet their own political chips. Whatever their own political proclivities, many will conclude that they must swallow hard and support Trump.