News Analysis: Deep Republican rift clouds over Trump's presidential bid

Source: Xinhua| 2016-07-23 10:42:32|Editor: Tian Shaohui
Video PlayerClose

NEW YORK, July 22 (Xinhua) -- A traditional chance to showcase party unity turned out extraordinarily divisive, exposing the deep wounds the bombastic presidential candidate Donald Trump has cut through the U.S. Republican Party after a bruising primary season.

Though choosing Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate scored points for the Republican presidential candidate, it won't be enough for Trump to turn the tide against Hillary Clinton in the race for White House, experts said.


The deep rift running at this week's Republican National Convention nominating Trump for president, "is extraordinarily unusual," Robert Shapiro, a professor and former chair of the Department of Political Science at Columbia University, told Xinhua.

"Having major party leaders not attending the convention, especially the home state governor John Kasich, and one major party leader giving a speech that withholds any endorsement, let alone one that is not enthusiastic, is unheard of," he said.

It was a reference to the Texas senator Ted Cruz. Trump's closest primary rival shocked the Republican convention by refusing to endorse the nominee.

Prominent Republicans, including 18 out of the 54 Republican senators, did not show up at the convention held in Cleveland, the state of Ohio.

Six Republican governors, most notably Ohio Governor John Kasich, skipped the convention.

The two living former Republican presidents, President George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, and the two former Republican nominees for president, Senator John McCain and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, all chose to sit out.

"The convention is very divided because the party is very divided," said Elizabeth Sherman, an assistant professor in the School of Public Affairs at the American University.

Though Trump, the brash New York real estate billionaire, defeated 16 other candidates in the primaries, "he won a plurality in most states, not a majority," she said.

"There are many Republicans who are against him, who think he is terrible on foreign policy and domestic policy."


On the third night of the convention, Pence introduced himself to a cheering crowd as "a Christian, a Conservative and a Republican."

Many experts believe that by putting Pence on the Republican ticket, Trump is striking a strong message for party unity, appealing to the Republican base and the establishment.

In the primary election campaign, Trump has tapped into Republicans' anger at their own party, playing on fear of foreign influences and sentiment of those left behind due to globalization to win over white middle-class Americans.

But his personal insults on fellow Republicans and inflammatory rhetoric on scrapping free trade deals, banning Muslims from entering the country and building a wall on the Mexican border have long rankled the party establishment.

The selection of Pence, who has unimpeachable conservative credentials, will help Trump woo "evangelical conservatives among the party base, and other supporters of restrictions on abortions, opponents of gay marriage, and similar religious values," Prof. Shapiro said.

By picking Pence, the GOP presidential ticket would also appear to stand with "Republican leaders like Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and others who oppose expansive government, government regulation, and high taxes," he added.

Prof. Sherman echoed, adding that Pence will help Trump improve somewhat in the big industrial states of Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, "which have serious problems of manufacturing and unemployment because factories are closing."


Prof. Shapiro believed that what will hold the Republican Party together in the general election "is the level of opposition toward the Democrats in general and Hillary Clinton, and the Obama years in particular."

Attacking Clinton, who is poised to clinch the Democratic nomination next week in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has proved powerful to glue the fractured party.

The recurring chants of "lock her up" over Clinton's use of a private email server to conduct public business while she was secretary of state has made itself an unofficial theme of the Republican convention.

"The opposition to the Democrats is sufficient to overcome GOP divisions, but it is an open question whether Trump can win the election," he said.

In his high-stakes, prime-time nomination acceptance speech on Thursday night, Trump made forceful promises to be the champion of disaffected Americans, capping his convention on a high note for the party.

However he seemed all but capitalized on the biggest opportunity a presidential nominee has to reach out to a broader swath of voters in the race to win 270 out of 538 electoral votes needed for the presidency.

"Trump strummed the law and order theme hard, especially on illegal immigrant violence and border security. The speech was his most organized, coherent, and affecting as any we've seen so far," Brandon Rottinghaus, an associate professor on political science at the University of Houston, told Xinhua.

"The red meat issues for the base will find favor with hard-core Republicans, but the appeal to independents may be less palpable. There wasn't much for those in the middle to grab onto. Trump missed his opportunity to present himself as a business-minded fixer like Romney did in 2012," he said.

"Trump will get a convention bump, as most nominees do, but it won't be large enough to promote a sustained rise in his approval numbers. With the Democratic convention on its heels, it will be difficult for Trump to get any kind of momentum out of Cleveland," he added.