I don’t know if the Republican Party’s top strategists are focused on what’s happening to the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom or not, but the business community should be paying attention. The Tories were almost exterminated in the parliamentary elections for the European Union, winning only four seats in all of England, Scotland and Wales. A new YouGov poll of a potential UK parliamentary election shows the Tories pulling 19 percent, even with Labour and behind both the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats (24 percent) and Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party (22 percent).
The Tories will have a harder time clawing back support than Labour because they’re still expected to deliver a Brexit deal, and they probably cannot accomplish that task. The business community is looking at a Conservative Party that can no longer represent them in a minimally acceptable way. The Tories will either crash out of the European Union with no deal (as the Brexit Party demands) or they’ll cede their position as a major party. The Labour Party can adjust to the surge for the Liberal Democrats by adopting a more coherent and consistent Remain position.
In America, the Republican Party has basically been taken over by a Brexit-type mentality, and the president’s decision to ramp up tariffs on Mexican goods is going to cause the same kind of economic chaos and hardship as a No-Deal Brexit will cause for the United Kingdom.
If you think of the Republican Party as a vehicle that can carry any kind of passengers, it’s careening down the road picking up white nationalists and evangelicals while tossing out business leaders. Unlike in the UK, where the Brexit Party is threatening to supplant the Conservatives, in America the Republican Party is being transformed into the Brexit Party. Neither outcome is any good for business interests, but the American version can leave them homeless.
I doubt that Charlie Cook was really thinking along these lines when he noted that Trump has abandoned the center and given the Democrats an opening to seize the moderate vote. I think he’s suggesting that the left can screw things up by looking this gift horse in the mouth and abandoning the center themselves. But it remains true that many business leaders will conclude that their interests cannot be served by giving Trump another four years to consolidate his hold over the GOP. If given a choice between Trump and Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, they may look to form a third party. In general, however, they will see a Democratic president as less of a risk than the possible permanent loss of a natural political home.
The Republican Party is not in the same dire straits as the Tories because it’s much harder in America for third parties to win seats or elect national leaders. The GOP is absorbing the Brexiteers rather than losing out to them. But it’s a distinction without much difference for the big business community. Their party is no longer their party.