I’ve never been this disappointed in an election outcome. Even when Bush was elected a second time, I don’t remember feeling this emotional. For a while preceding this election, I used to wonder how much sway the far right have in the US. A lot of countries in western Europe like France, Germany, UK, Austria, Switzerland all have far right parties, although they are mostly in the fringes. In the US, there is the Tea Party of course, but it operates within the Republican party. How much influence does it have? There was some reason prior to this election to think that its social conservative influence was waning.
The reason for optimism is that in 2008 and then again in 2012, when the Republicans lost the general election, they did a lot of soul searching. In fact, they hired a few consultants to look into their failure and provide recommendations. That resulted in a 100 page report (you can see it here), which the press has since called the autopsy report. The report was a result of analysis and data collected from thousands of interviews. The report makes several recommendations, the most important of which is that the RNC should do a lot more to embrace women and minorities, especially hispanic voters. The Republicans should make them feel more welcome and not appear to be a party that wants them to disappear. The autopsy report was taken very seriously by many in the party. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio organized their campaign strategies around it. Paul Ryan and even Newt Gingrich praised it as a model for the party in the coming years. It seemed at the time that the Republican party is moving away from far right tendencies or even away from social conservatism (that always seemed like a bit of a stretch). Of course, this was just a strategic move and not a major idealogical shift for the party. But still, this is not the direction that a far right party or a party mostly influenced by a far right ideology would take.
Trump, who derided the report from the beginning (even before he entered the race), did everything that flies in the face of the report. I don’t have to recount all the ways in which he did this. This, of course, made many in his party very uncomfortable and it seemed for a while that the party was tearing itself apart. But when he started getting more and more support and eventually won the primary, it seemed clear that the far right movement is not that small. But how big is it? It wasn’t clear and back then, I don’t think anyone really knew. That was also the time when people talked of a Clinton landslide. If Clinton had won (landslide or not), the Republican party would have been madder than ever at these Trump nationalists and it seemed to me that Trump and his supporters would have ended up starting their own party. That made a lot of sense because how could the US not have a far right movement when it is only growing everywhere else. That would also weaken the republican party and they would have to do more soul searching to reinvent themselves. I thought and even hoped at the time that this is the direction things would move.
But this unexpected and unthinkable election outcome has shown how flawed that thinking is. It has become abundantly clear that the far right movement is much stronger than anyone imagined. In fact, the US has had a far right party all along—the Republican party and it is not in the fringes like in western Europe. The far right is now the mainstream in the United States and it has all three branches of the government at its mercy.