As the Trump campaign steamrolls ahead, most of us are still scratching our heads. How could this have happened? The usual answer focuses on the grievances of the Trump voter: economic anxiety, frustration with the status quo in politics, the desire to see somebody “tell it like it is, and so on.
But that’s only part of the story. While it is important to appreciate the frustrations of those at the base of the party pyramid, we should not overlook problems nearer the top of the party architecture. Systemic institutional weaknesses, combined with a lack of leadership, have facilitated Trump in his takeover of the Republican party. The GOP is in grim shape, and Trump is a consequence of the party’s debility as much as he is a cause.
Edmund Burke defined a political party as a body of men united, for promoting by their joint endeavours the national interest, upon some particular principle in which they are all agreed. The Jeffersonian Republicans expanded on and democratized Burke’s idea. As James Madison writes in A Candid State of Parties: