Since 2008, the two party system in America has slowly been eroded. The rise of the Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin and Donald Trump has changed the shape of social conservatism. This change had led to a split in the GOP and the existence of an ersatz multi-party system, led by the Democrats, the Republicans and the Authoritarian Republicans.
The authoritarians are about to make a huge break through and America has one group to thank, the Tea Party.
After the financial crash and bailout of the banks, working people were angry. FreedomWorks capitalised on this and used it to mobilise the public against higher levels of debt, increasing taxes and Obamacare. They created the Tea Party, a grass roots movement of patriots who were sick and tired of big government restricting their liberty. Bankrolled by the Koch brothers, they benefited significantly from the public pressure put on the Republican Party. After all, the billionaires and the blue collar protestors shared the same goals; restricting the poor’s access to health insurance, overturning measures that prevents industrialists from poisoning the environment and huge inheritance and estate tax cuts so that the rich can horde their wealth. All of these missions, of course, being fought in the name of the Founding Fathers and freedom, despite Thomas Jefferson and others campaigning in Virginia in 1777 to scrap primogeniture.
The Republican establishment didn’t know how to respond to this new branch of formalised support. At first, they were an asset. Mass demonstrations against the Universal Health Care Act put the anti-Obama message at the top of news bulletins across the nation. Their billionaire donors supported the push to limit tax and to cut red tape, giving the oil industry support in their battles with the EPA (the Environmental Protection Agency, which Trump now wants to dismantle) about clean water and air regulations.
It was only when Tea Party candidates were beating the ‘establishment’ GOP in Senate and House primaries that the movement started to become a serious political force. In 2010, Rand Paul defeated Secretary of State for Kentucky Trey Greyson with 60% of the vote, Nikki Haley beat three high profile republicans in the primary race for South Carolina governor and Marco Rubio beat sitting Governor of Florida Charlie Christ. In 2012, Ted Cruz’s election to the Senate, Scott Walker’s election as Governor of Wisconsin and Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as running mate. By 2014, former deputy chief of staff to George W. Bush and Republican strategist Karl Rove declared war on the Tea Party with American Crossroads as they started to attract the donations the party wanted for the campaigns of less extreme candidates.
It was too late, the Tea Party had already forced two debt ceiling crises, which damaged the GOP’s approval ratings, and created spectacular side shows, like Cliven Bundy and the birthed movement. By 2012, they had a strong hold on the Senate, with 16 senators, and the 113th Congress, with 48 representatives (having had 60 in the 112th).
The coup d’état had claimed casualties, some of the losses were significant defeats. Now their biggest problem is limiting the damage of the 2016 election.
Despite the Tea Party supposedly being a fundamentally libertarian movement, there are strong authoritarian traits within its base support. They submit to leaders such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin who tell them that their lives are in constant danger at the hands of Islamic extremism, they compartmentalise the Constitution so that they believe the 2nd Amendment is untouchable but the 14th was a mistake and have a pathological hatred of Barack Obama, being convinced that his health care reform has set up ‘death panels’ to euthanize their grandparents. The Tea Party stood for the ethnocentric and dogmatic dismissal of non-Christians and had a relied on the herd-mentality and thinly veiled prejudice of the self-righteous social conservatives.
The biggest issue of all is that the Republicans never dealt with the Tea Party insurgency. The Republicans won the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014, thanks to Tea Party candidates, but the wings of the party were never able to reconcile their differences. So, who is profiting from the frustrated authoritarian undertones of GOP voters?
Studies of GOP voters showed that, above all else, authoritarianism is a common trait among Trump voters (their second preference was Ted Cruz). Trump’s campaign is not feeding off of new anger at the political establishment, it is the natural evolution of the Tea Party, which was allowed to fester and hijack the party.
This has led to the almost three party system. The authoritarian wing has roundly beaten the establishment during the primary cycle as Trump becomes the presumptive nominee, after Ted Cruz dropped out last night after a crushing defeat in Indiana.
‘Make America Great Again’ is exactly the sentiment the thousands of people who took the streets on Tax Day in 2009 and the foot of the Lincoln Memorial in 2010 felt. They took this anger to the voting booth and started stretching the GOP, further and further to the right. These protestors are not inherently Trump supporters, they existed before him and will continue to swing elections long after he is gone. The Republicans used the support of authoritarians to win elections by appeasing them, Trump is listening and acting as their champion, which is why he is the first candidate to unite them since the formation of the Tea Party.
The Republicans’ fate is being decided by a candidate who calls for banning Muslims from the US and deporting millions of Mexican immigrants. The values behind these beliefs have undergone a massive process of change in the electorate, from the working man’s disenchantment with the elites to fear based and racial politics. Trump is the next logical step for the authoritarian movement’s hostile takeover of the GOP. Even if he doesn’t win the White House, the insurgency is alive and well in Washington. The 2016 presidential primary is their pièce de résistance and it may just tear the party apart.