Trump's Breitbart Hail Mary is the sign of a flailing campaign, but it also represents a dying wing of the GOP

Rather than building a winning coalition for the future, Donald Trump is barrelling down a demographic dead end

Published August 18, 2016 4:21PM (EDT)

Stephen Bannon   (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)
Stephen Bannon (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

Donald Trump’s recent campaign management shakeup is a Hail Mary move meant to reincarnate his authentic, populist self, revive his outsider status and help him ride the combative populist sentiment that earlier propelled him along an astonishing path to the GOP nomination. But this approach is an unlikely path to general election victory. It’s a circle-the-wagons-against-the outsiders mentality that polls suggest is likely to fail since Trump’s only path to victory would be to attract voters who not already Breitbart News junkies.

By naming Breitbart News’ Stephen Bannon as his top campaign executive, Trump is taking a detractive, rather than additive approach to voter engagement, even among would-be allies on the right. Recently, Breitbart News has taken numerous shots at establishment figures like House Speaker Paul Ryan, who could have helped Trump if he had been interested in governing instead of bluster. But Trump’s slash-and-burn approach to the election has shown, as described in "The Art of War," that he didn’t care about winning. That would have meant doing the hard work of cultivating party unity rather than division. Trump stubbornly thought he could win without shoring up the GOP, and this strategy is on the brink of failure.

What’s even more troubling for conservatives is contemplating what the party will be like after Trump’s likely November loss — providing there isn't an 11th-hour, anti-Hillary email dump or a complete debate shellacking of Clinton by Trump. After November the GOP will face two choices: becoming the party of Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz or the party of Paul Ryan and Sen. Ben Sasse; a party of a dying demographic or a party of the future.

The Breitbart path is one of demographic obscurity. As Pew Research and other demographic researchers have shown, the United States is on its way to becoming a majority "minority" country, with the proportion of white voters, including those of the Breitbart News audience, shrinking by the year. Millennials are 42 percent nonwhite, and the majority of babies born today are from minority groups.

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Source: Pew Research








Trump is poised to create a demographic train wreck for Republicans, to become the Barry Goldwater 2.0 among Hispanics, thus permanently icing out an entire demographic group. In Cleveland at the Republican convention of the 2,472 delegates, only 18 were black, the lowest percentage on record. That's lower even than in 1964, the year the Republican Party selected Goldwater as its presidential nominee. Undoubtedly, this stems in part from Trump’s off-putting language toward racial minorities, women, Muslims and other groups.

Certainly even establishment Republicans have their work cut out for them, too. (The intern selfie episode with Speaker Ryan, which dramatically illustrated that his staff is far from diverse, is evidence of this.) Without this work, the GOP is on an unsustainable course if it wants conservative values to live beyond the current generation.

The Bannon Hail Mary move by Trump is akin to John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin during his flailing 2008 campaign. Coincidentally Bannon is a close confidant of Palin. Yet Palin’s populist pizzazz, which dominated social and traditional media, didn’t deliver at the ballot box. Simply changing the cast of characters under the same populist playbook will likely deliver the same failed result.

After Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss, the subsequent GOP autopsy report detailing smart ways to expand the Republican Party was a smart doctor’s prescription for keeping a center-right coalition from dying away. Trump’s pick of Bannon is possibly laying the ground for a profitable, if niche media firm. But Bannon has never run a political campaign. So it's almost as if Trump is flying solo. By failing to look beyond his own shrinking cast of immediate allies, Trump’s latest campaign approach is likely at the ballot box to fulfill the adage that “a physician who treats himself has a fool for a patient.”

For its part, the Ryan-Sasse wing of the GOP must also tread carefully after November: Neutrally allowing Trump to self-implode rather than siphoning off votes to a well-funded, viable, third-party 2016 alternative will allow these Republicans to avoid the Trump scorched-earth approach. If they stand up to a President Hillary Clinton in tangible, smart ways, this will grant them the political currency to win the hearts and minds of Trump refugees for 2020 and beyond.

By Carrie Sheffield

Carrie Sheffield is a Salon Talks host, founder of Bold and adviser to Lincoln Network. She previously wrote editorials for The Washington Times, covered politics for POLITICO and The Hill and analyzed municipal credit for Goldman Sachs and Moody's Investors Service.

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Ben Sasse Breitbart Donald Trump Elections 2016 Paul Ryan Stephen K. Bannon Ted Cruz