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The Party Line is dedicated to examining regional issues and policies through the figures who give shape to them. These are critical, complex, and even downright confusing times we live in. There’s a lot to navigate nationally and in the Carolinas; whether it’s elections, debates on gay marriage, public school closings, or tax incentives for economic development. The Party Line’s goal is to offer a provocative, intelligent look at the issues and players behind the action; a view that ultimately offers the necessary insight for Carolina voters to hold public servants more accountable.

Trump's Early Appeal Could Have Long-Term Consequences For GOP

Michael Bitzer
Michael Bitzer

With the rise of Donald Trump in a series of polls, there is a feeling that he may be pulling down the Republican Party as a whole.  Granted, with 15 other candidates vying for the GOP nomination, you can’t describe anyone as a “front-runner” this far out.

On the other side of the political aisle, Hillary Clinton’s favorable numbers are turning against her, especially with the recent release of a very early poll of three battleground states.

With the enormous crowd of contenders on the Republican side causing an inability of support to coalesce around any one candidate, the fact that a ‘non-political’ celebrity can lead the pack going into the GOP’s first debate shouldn’t be surprising.

What is surprising is that even with the controversial statements and attacks that Trump has lodged against both contenders and party regulars, a small but concerted core of supporters that he appeals to—anti-immigration, anti-establishment, anti-politician, pro-“I’ll say whatever I want to”—could be the basis for why Trump may be able to hang around for some time, unless the field of 16 narrows quickly.

But the damage that an extended Trump run might have against the GOP is something that the party has to be concerned about. In 2012, following a presidential election that every GOP strategist thought they had locked up, the party leadership commissioned a report that outlines what went wrong and what the GOP and its “growth and opportunity project” needs to do to be viable at the presidential level in the future.

But you can’t begin to carry out such appeals when candidates continue “to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people,” when advocating that “comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies” but one of the leading candidates uses his bullhorn to attack Latinos and Hispanics, and when the party should “promote forward-looking, positive policy proposals” to attract younger voters, yet Trump promotes a campaign (so far) of fear and frustration, despite his call for “making America great again.”

Most recently, the Pew Research Center released a survey finding that the GOP’s favorability rating has taken a hit this year, even among its own supporters. With the fact that that only two-thirds of Republicans expressed a favorable view of their own party, it may explain why only 32 percent of all respondents have a favorable impression of the Republican Party.

Granted, the Pew survey was released just when Donald Trump was beginning his rise in the poll to the top-tier of contenders, but the favorability problem that both parties have goes back before the heating up of the presidential primary contests.

As a baseline of comparison, 2012’s presidential contest saw 48 percent of respondents to the American National Election Survey say there was something that they liked about the Democratic Party, while only 42 percent said there was something that they liked about the GOP.

Breaking those responses down by self-party identification, three-quarters of both Democrats and Republicans responded that there was something that they liked about their respective party. When asked about the other party, only 21 percent of Democrats said there was anything that they liked about Republicans, while only 26 percent of GOP respondents said there was anything they liked about Democrats.

There was one other commonality between the two parties in the last presidential contest: Only 24 percent of self-identified independents said there was anything they liked about either party.

While the likelihood is that self-identified partisans will come back to their respective home parties as November 2016 draws near, the early flirtations with candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, who seems to claim the early anti-Hillary candidacy, demonstrates the challenge for any candidate to represent all aspects of today’s modern political parties, especially in the bid to become each party’s standard-bearer.

Could 2016 shape up to another election of “I’m voting for the candidate I like the least?” With 15 months to go, it sure seems that way.