Changing Image of the Republican Party: 2016 Election Alters Status Quo

History may repeat itself in the 2016 election as a potential Republican Party realignment may be taking place.

     According to Wilkes University political science professor, Dr. Thomas Baldino, the stances taken by Republican front-runner Donald Trump reflect those of 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan.

     “I think we’re seeing the same thing now. Trump’s appealing to the same kind of voters Reagan appealed to: People who are socially conservative,” and “law and order types,” Baldino explained.

     Trump has been dominating the headlines as his campaign to the presidency continues to shock and draw attention from the American electorate.

     Baldino explained that much of Trump’s appeal to voters is that he acknowledges their fears and emphasizes with those angered by Washington gridlock.

     “There are thoughtful people who are Trump supporters because they are angry,” Baldino said. “So you have Trump tapping into this other side of the electorate. They feel the government hasn’t been tough enough on things like immigration.”

     Baldino explained that Trump is not the only candidate gaining attention in this way. Democratic candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, has employed similar tactics.

     As more democrats also become angered with Washington rhetoric, many flock to Sanders and leave the Hillary Clinton camp to join what Baldino describes as populist politicians.

     Populists are those who appeal to people’s fears and angers, making promises to the people based on “what the people want to hear, not necessarily what they should hear,” Baldino explained.

     For Sanders, this is connecting to young voters on issues such as higher education and free college tuition.

While Sanders has been successful in reaching that demographic through social media, that isn’t the only reason millennials support him.

     “It’s not solely social media… the message is genuine,”  Baldino said.

    While Trump can be found on social media and many suggest that his intentions are true, Baldino explains that it is Trump’s character that captures voters’ attention.

     “Trump built his candidacy around himself. Without that celebrity he wouldn’t be who he is,” Baldino explained. “It’s Trump. It’s not his position per se, it’s Trump and how he represents those issues.”

     The appeal to Trump is also in his ability to target some portions of the entire Republican party while also reaching out to Democrats who feel the country is going in a direction they do not agree with.

The Four Branches of the Republican Party

     Baldino explained that since the 1980s, the Republican Party can be broken into four categories: the establishment, libertarians, neo conservatives and the socially/religiously conservative.

     All of the four categories existed under the Reagan administration.

     Establishment Republicans are those who focus on financial security, capitalism, free enterprise and minimal government involvement.

     The libertarian wing wants no government involvement.

     Neo conservatives are typically identified as the militant wing of party who project American authority and force on world stage. They are also known as “war hawks.”

     Those who are part of the socially/religiously conservative were not part of politics until the Reagan administration brought them in and shared similar religious sentiments.

     While Trump is able to gain supporters from both the right and left, it has many questioning what the new Republican party and who has found a place within the party.

The Changing Image

     When one says “Republican” the image that may come to mind is white, affluent and male.

     But that is not what the typical Republican looks like today.

     Kyle Thomas, 19, explained that in many ways he does fit the Republican mold, except for one category.

     “Probably the fact that I’m a homosexual,” Thomas explained, “(and) maybe because I’m not a 50-year-old man,” he added, laughing.

     Thomas explained that he sees the party changing in many ways as older generations die and the Millennial generation takes a new role.

     “I feel like it’s shifting just because the people with the extreme old fashion values – this is going to sound harsh – are dying. The new people coming into it have progressive views,” Thomas said.     

     “In the world now, you have to be more accepting and not judging,” adding, “I think we’re going to be open to more ideas.”

     Some Republicans attribute this change to the independence of Republican voters.

     Dave Baloga, 57, elected Pennsylvania Representative Party State Committeeman who also serves as a union president, explained that many Republicans are not straight ticket voters and enjoy choice.

     “The beauty of Republican voters is that they are fiercely independent. We are immensely proud to be recognized as mavericks,” Baloga said. “That causes problems as it fragments the votes but it is the spirit of the rugged individual… that makes us this way.”

    Baloga explained that even the use of party alignment isn’t as relevant to voters as it may appear.

     “It is the ideals we desire, each one’s criteria is individually suited to the voter. It is tough for a Republican to vote straight party; it just does not feel right.”

     Baloga explained that the Republican Party has become a traditional party as more voters and politicians find that societal views are changing.

     “It was an exciting time to see the huge field of Republican candidates speaking about more than the classic talking points as habitually has occurred in past presidential primaries,” Baloga said.  “Now the narrow field is facing even more scrutiny as they are grilled on evolving situations nationally as well as globally. The lines between the parties are very starkly illustrated.”

     Ronald Espinosa, 22, who is the current Pennsylvania Deputy Director for Students4Trump explained that Trump has a way of addressing these values of the electorate while showing he has no favors to give to anyone.

     “People have to keep in mind it’s his whole stance,” Espinosa said. “He doesn’t have supporters or backers.”

     Thomas agreed, saying, “I think the fact that he has so much money and he could do whatever he wanted, but he’s taking time out of his life to run for president, says a lot.”

     Espinosa added his unique perspective as an immigrant from Brazil and how his views are most reflective of Trumps.

     “I’m an immigrant… people make it seem that he doesn’t want them to be here,” Espinosa said on Trump’s policy. “He wants them to do it the right way…everyone is held accountable.”

     The common sentiment between Espinosa and Thomas was that many individual’s think there is a negative connotation with the term “Republican.”

     “People try to hide it but I don’t think you should hide the things you believe in,” Espinosa said. “Everyone is entitled to their opinion and to have a voice.”

     “I feel like everyone was too scared to say it because they were afraid this party won’t accept me because I am this,” Thomas said.

     That is why Espinosa said Students4Trump has had so much success.

    “It’s nice to be around like minded people,” Espinosa said. “People aren’t judging you.”

    To join Students4Trump, students can reach out to Espinosa at [email protected]. The group can also be followed @Wilkes4Trump on Twitter.