Could Donald Trump be the Republican party’s second Great Emancipator? Strangely, yes.
Oddly, it is his serial embrace of mouthbreather conspiracy theories that may liberate the party.
For the moment, put aside Trump’s preposterous and embarrassing views about President Obama’s birth, Vince Foster’s death, the vaccination-autism nexus, the murder of Justice Scalia, the involvement of Ted Cruz’s father in the JFK assassination and the healthcare industry/legal establishment cabal to railroad producers of that wonderful material, asbestos. (Yes, Trump has been a conspiracy loon for many decades.) The absurd Trump notion that really matters is his contention that climate change is a “hoax.” And not just any hoax, but one perpetrated by the Chinese to weaken our manufacturing competitiveness.
In an energy speech in North Dakota, Trump quadrupled down on his refusal to admit logic into any discussion of energy policy. What does Trump’s America need? More coal and less regulation on fossil fuels.
Why would anyone besides an unemployed coal miner see light at the end of this pitch-black tunnel? Because, according to the Politics & Global Warming report released by Yale and George Mason in March, most Republicans think Trump is out to lunch. Fully 47 percent of conservative Republicans believe global warming is happening, up 19 percentage points in just two years. And 71 percent of liberal/moderate Republicans think it is occurring. On no issue is the chasm between Republican voters and the candidates who seek to take advantage of them greater. (Interestingly, the survey found only 16 percent of all voters realize climate scientists are nearly unanimous in believing that human-caused global warming exists, so the issue might grow in importance by November.)
Trump won the nomination largely because he realized Republican voters felt betrayed by Republican politicians. Voters did not punish him for straying from alleged party orthodoxy. Ted Cruz’s attempt to brand him a Democrat failed abysmally, and Trump even wrested the evangelical vote from him. Paradoxically, though, on climate change, Trump has sided with the donor class and the wingnut fringe and against his party’s voters.
If Hillary Clinton is smart, she will make climate change a major issue of the general election and show it is yet another subject on which Trump is an ill-informed loose cannon. If she does, she should win. In the aftermath, future Republican candidates will conclude that Trump was rewarded for taking courageous stands in the primaries but penalized for being the craven tool of the fossil fuel industry in the general election.
This would be good for humanity because it would likely mean future Republican presidential nominees won’t deny climate change. Trump has already shown that, on some issues, the Republican base is more moderate, if wildly more racist, than almost anybody thought. He proved that by winning. Now, on climate change, he can do the party an even bigger favor by losing.
Viewed logically, both his nomination victory and general election defeat will convince Republicans that to compete nationally the party must be more moderate, not less. Party luminaries will recognize that the Cruz holier-than-thou conservative path will be a road to ruin.
So the rise of Trump might save the Republican party by making it an actual party again rather than a subsidiary of Koch Industries. But he must lose in November to really save it. And he must lose by continuing to promote an energy policy that could help destroy the planet.
Trump has shown it is the donor class that has kept the party of Lincoln in chains. The Republican party has been shackled to some ideas that are not only wrong-headed but also deeply unpopular because they benefit the few at the expense of the many. As in the antebellum South, the ideas seem tailored to help rich white folks and no one else. For the sake of the party, and the nation, it is well past time for another Emancipation Proclamation.