In Indiana last Tuesday, at the same time Trump was winning the presidential primary, a candidate named Todd Young won a race for the Republican Senate nomination. Young, a three-term congressman from Bloomington, was the establishment candidate, backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. His opponent, fellow Representative Marlin Stutzman, was an archetypal Tea Partier—a Freedom Caucus member who voted against Boehner for speaker. (During the shutdown, Stutzman memorably declared, “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” ) What did it mean that Trump and Young both won, and that other incumbent and establishment candidates have also won primaries this year? If Trump voters are mad as hell, why are they voting to preserve the Washington status quo?
Another group working to elect Young was the Republican Main Street Partnership, a coalition of pragmatists that styles itself as the moderate counterweight to the Freedom Caucus. Its president, Sarah Chamberlain, was in Indiana working on Young’s behalf, and she told me it was not a coincidence that Trump and Young both prevailed. In the group’s polling, the two candidates rose and fell in tandem, she said. “If Trump came up, Todd Young came up with him,” she said. “When Cruz went down, Stutzman went down.” I asked why she thought that was. The voters, she said, saw both Young, a former Marine, and Trump as men of action who would get things done. “People like the idea that Trump can actually do something—get the wall built, get the trade deals redone—because they’re seeing not a lot get done by the current administration and D.C.,” she said.
For Republican leaders like Boehner and McConnell, who have been accused of having little agenda beyond obstructing Obama, it will have been a rich irony indeed if the rise of Trump actually represents an uprising of Republican pragmatism against the conservative wing of the party. At Trump rallies, I frequently meet voters who tell me they consider themselves moderates or independents. Indeed, Trump has long polled best with liberal and moderate Republicans, and on Sunday he told George Stephanopoulos, “This is called the Republican Party. It’s not called the Conservative Party.”
At the same time, plenty of members of the Republican establishment are horrified by Trump, just as plenty of Tea Partiers are. (It’s possible, here, to get lost in Talmudic parsing of who and what constitutes “establishment”; There are ambiguities, but a good rule of thumb is that the Republican in question opposed the 2013 shutdown, or has the last name “Bush.”) That Trump has found allies and enemies in both wings illustrates the way his nomination constitutes a third way for the GOP. He redrew the old battle lines, combining the passionate anger of the grassroots and the win-at-all-costs pragmatism of the elites. And now he’s managed a feat of unity few thought possible, bringing such usual antagonists as Glenn Beck and Lindsey Graham together against him.