Home » The Republicans’ new party platform is scary – because it can win | Dustin Guastella and Bhaskar Sunkara

The Republicans’ new party platform is scary – because it can win | Dustin Guastella and Bhaskar Sunkara

by John Jefferson
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The new Republican platform was released yesterday. Some liberal journalists – the opinion-makers of what has been called the Democrats’ “shadow party” – dismissed the new platform as a “joke”. They’re wrong. The Republican party platform is scary. Not because it rolls out the usual litany of conservative policy preferences, but precisely because of where it breaks from that orthodoxy.

The new party platform is scary, because it can win.

Remember, the Republican party did not release a platform in 2020. Presumably, many in the party had not yet accepted that Trumpism was not an aberrant virus but instead the new normal for conservative politics. But in 2024 party leaders, billionaire donors, and rightwing media have embraced Donald Trump without reservation. The new platform reflects his political formula: moderate, at least rhetorically, on abortion; double down on immigration; and reject the small-government Republican tradition.

In addition to the ex-president’s signature anti-immigrant positions, consider the following changes: the drafters have dropped the party’s longstanding commitment to cut “entitlements” and now say that Republicans “will not cut one penny” from social security or Medicare. The platform also does not mention reducing the national debt, opting instead for vague language about slashing “wasteful spending”. The platform endorses an industrial policy to make the US the “Manufacturing Superpower”. The platform rails against the “unfair trade deals” and politicians who “sold our jobs and livelihoods to the highest bidders overseas”. And there is a new commitment to “rebuild our cities and restore law and order”.

Most strikingly, the platform does not mention any national abortion ban, only opposition to “late-term abortion”. The platform describes itself as “a return to common sense” and Trump has distanced himself from the radical framing of the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025.

In US politics, platforms typically don’t mean much, and both Democrats and Republicans tend to throw together broad programs designed to triangulate between appeasing ideologues and appealing to swing voters. But platforms can be consequential if they signal a genuine break from past orthodoxy, and if legislators take them seriously. Given the sudden advocacy of platform positions from several leading Republican figures such as JD Vance and Marco Rubio, the new Republican platform does not seem like window dressing.

This is the new core of the Republican party’s appeals: moderate on certain cultural issues and economic issues. That can win against a feeble Democratic party that is too busy wrestling over who their nominee should be to promote a second-term agenda. (“Let’s Finish the Job” says Joe Biden, in a recent ad, with no indication what that job is.)

Democrats seem to have tricked themselves into thinking that the voting public’s general rejection of the US supreme court’s Dobbs decision means that polarization around abortion will catapult them to victory. They seem to think that because Ron DeSantis lost by making his campaign all about “wokeness”, voters really don’t mind corporate DEI language. They seem to think that because the Republican party is unwilling to follow through on the populist economics presented in their 2016 and 2024 platforms, voters will laugh off those promises. And, of course, they underestimate the degree to which inflation has soured voters on the president and the Democrats.

Much was made in the lead-up to 2016 about the civil war within the Republican party between “Never Trump” conservatives and the Steve Bannon populist wing of the party. Moderate figures like Joe Scarborough and Colin Powell left the party in opposition to their presumptive candidate, while Marco Rubio said that Trump’s nomination would “fracture the party and be damaging to the conservative movement”. Far from crippling the Republican party, however, Trump brought it back to power. And in office, he reassured establishment figures by coupling largely symbolic protectionist measures with the deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy that one would have expected from a Mitt Romney administration.

And now, instead of moving the Republican party to the radical right, Trump, on key issues like abortion, is at least theoretically moving his party closer to the center. Indeed, the Republican platform appears to be a winning one. Yet while the Republican party is offering a relatively coherent program, Democrats are all over the place, with a nominee unable to effectively communicate with the American people and no unifying theme other than opposition to Trump. Rather than running on the Biden administration’s oversight of job growth in distressed areas and its new industrial policy, liberals seem content to do battle on the cultural front.

This discursive failing has allowed common sense policies that are more reflective of the governing practice of today’s Democratic party – from defending the social safety net to growing manufacturing jobs – to become rebranded as the bread-and-butter of the Republican party.

In power, it’s likely that Trump will once again betray his working-class supporters and govern like a typical business conservative, because he is utterly committed to more tax cuts and weakening trade unions. He’s promised his richest political donors whatever they want if they help him get back in power. As a result, we’ve seen billionaires lining up to shower him with cash.

Yet Trump has displayed surprising political discipline lately. While the Democrats bicker among themselves about Biden’s fitness, Trump is only now beginning to spend big money in swing states like Wisconsin – where he is already leading in the polls.

This is a side of Trump we haven’t previously seen; he is campaigning to win in a dangerously coherent way. If progressives don’t wake up and offer an appealing alternative, Trump might do more than rule through the courts and through executive orders – he might forge a long-lasting, majoritarian movement.

  • Dustin “Dino” Guastella is a research associate at the Center for Working Class Politics and director of operations for Teamsters Local 623 in Philadelphia

  • Bhaskar Sunkara is the president of the Nation, founding editor of Jacobin, and author of The Socialist Manifesto: The Case for Radical Politics in an Era of Extreme Inequalities

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