The Republican Party Gave Its Data to a White Nationalist. What Could Go Wrong?

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Donald Trump and Reince Priebus.Photo: Getty Images

Many a suicidal venture was undertaken with the intent of self-preservation. From the Republican National Committee’s standpoint, Donald Trump was surely not its 1st, 2nd, or even 16th choice for presidential nominee. Once it became inevitable, it had to balance two strategic considerations: whether to support its nominee, which might deepen the damage he inflicts upon the party brand for years to come, or oppose him, threatening an election-year breach that might endanger its candidates up and down the ballot. (The moral argument that supporting him might enable a straight-up authoritarian to win and then bring down the world’s greatest democracy probably did not enter into the equation.)

As we all know, the Republican National Committee, along with most of the party’s elected officials, decided to support Trump. They avoided the short-term damage of a party schism, but the long-term impact on the party is something that can only be hazily guessed at. Josh Green and Sasha Issenberg report on the plans that Steve Bannon and other members of the Trump inner circle have to transition their campaign into a white-nationalist media organization after the campaign. Bannon came from Breitbart news, which he turned from a right-wing site with frequent racist overtones into a racist site with Republican overtones. He has helped merge Trump’s campaign into the messaging operation he built, reorienting the conservative agenda around its xenophobic element.

It is difficult to overestimate what a nightmare this would pose to the regular GOP should it come to fruition. After its last election defeat, the RNC published an autopsy describing the need to rebuild the party’s standing with immigrant communities and social moderates. That effort collapsed, and a normal candidate would mean the party’s long-term demographic viability continues to slowly deteriorate. Trumpism is a movement that would radically accelerate this demographic emergency, by aggressively positioning the party as virulently nativist, racist, and sexist.

Green and Issenberg report that Trump and Bannon built their data operation almost from scratch, relying for its survival on cooperation from the RNC:

The data operation in which Priebus and the RNC invested so heavily has fed into Project Alamo, helping Parscale build Trump’s base. “They brought to the table this movement and people who were willing to donate and activate, and we brought to the table a four-year investment and said we can process that for you,” says Sean Spicer, the RNC’s chief strategist. “That willingness to embrace what the RNC built allowed them to harness that movement.”

So the Republicans built a monster to stave off defeat in the 2016 election. And that monster may torment them for years to come.