Fall 2016 HS Essay Contest 3rd Place: “Where is the American Political System Heading After 2016 and why?” By Ben Rosenfeld

After an extremely contentious presidential election in 2016, I believe that significant changes will come to the American political party system, specifically with regards to press coverage of future campaigns, and party politics. More specifically, these changes will reflect the controversial nomination of Donald Trump as the Republican party’s candidate for president.

First of all, in the contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the media has occupied a significant role which has been incomparable to that of almost any other election year. Many political scientists credit Trump’s nomination as the Republican party’s general election candidate to the immense amount of free press and media attention he has gained since he first launched his campaign. According to The New York Times, by the middle of March, Trump had received 1.9 billion dollars in free media attention; this has led many to believe that perhaps the media played a bigger role in Trump’s success than his own policy and platform did.

Traditionally, candidates have had to rely on money from their party committees, yet the amount of press attention Trump has received over the course of his campaign has caused nearly all of his comments and new proposals to be circulated on national television. While the media will continue to discuss controversial candidates in the future, Republicans may take measures to ensure that more establishment candidates will be nominated, so as to maintain control over their nominees. However, because Trump self-funded his primary campaign, the party establishment had minimal control over his actions as a politician.  

Secondly, America has seen the growth of a major split within the Republican party.  Thus far, we have seen the abandonment of the GOP’s nominee by the party’s leaders, calls by other party leaders to intervene in the nominating process, and the defection of Republican voters to independent parties, which could ultimately cause an effect similar to that of Ralph Nader of the Green Party in 2000. Traditionally conservative leaders like George H.W. Bush have pledged their votes to Hillary Clinton, while a “never Trump” movement has created internecine conflict within the Republican establishment.

Many observers have questioned whether Donald Trump’s policies have similarities to those of the conservative establishment. One example is free trade. The Republican party has traditionally backed free trade, believing it to advance the dynamics of the free market.  However, Trump has made opposition to trade agreements like NAFTA and TPP one of the core planks of his candidacy. According to New York Magazine, “As the GOP nominee has encouraged voters to associate “free trade” with “bad deals” negotiated by the Clintons, Red America has taken a dimmer view of the term.” This is just one of several policy deviations which Trump has demonstrated as leader of the Republican party. These shifts in party values could eventually increase should Republicans gain control of the White House.

Other differences between Trump’s ideas and those of the Republican party have led many to distrust party leadership. On the one hand, Trump has brought in new supporters to the Republican party.  However, he has also alienated mainline conservatives and fundamentally changed some core values of the party that nominated him. Due to this, I believe it is not unreasonable to expect considerable changes to the policies of the Republican party — especially the procedures of its nominating process– in the wake of the November election. Political elites still have a disproportionate amount of say in who is nominated from their party, but it is entirely possible that the Republican party may amend their nomination process to include the role of something like that of superdelegates in the Democratic primary process. This addition would allow RNC leaders to have more of a say in who their party nominates.

Although it has not been decided, the 2016 election will become one of the most historically significant presidential contests in recent memory. Because of the growing split within the Republican party and the increased role of the media in our politics, this election could prove to be a turning point in modern American politics. Ultimately, I believe it will result in a fundamental change in the relationship of both the press and political elites to the democratic process.