I asked Erickson what it said about the Republican Party that Trump was doing so well. Did it prove the party’s base consisted of racists and haters? “The Republican Party created Donald Trump,” Erickson told me, “because they made a lot of promises to their base and never kept them.” Voters are drawn to Trump, he said, because “he’s burning down the Republican Party that never listened to them to begin with.”
This is true enough. But surely some of the blame also lies with figures like Erickson, who encouraged activists to demand ever-more extreme tactics from their leaders and branded anyone who didn’t agree a RINO, or Republican In Name Only. At this year’s Gathering, Erickson pushed the candidates to support shutting down the government if Democrats wouldn’t agree to pull funding from Planned Parenthood in the wake of the gory recent fetal-tissue-harvesting videos. Cruz was one of several who agreed; Huckabee went further by saying he would refuse to raise the debt ceiling, threatening default.
Trump, ironically, actually is a Republican in name only. But he’s also a professional entertainer, and he has proven better than any of the actual candidates at the performative outrageousness that the GOP base has been encouraged to demand. When and if he finally stalls out or quits, the deep Republican divisions that he has successfully exploited will remain, bedeveling whichever candidate ends up with the booby prize of the nomination.