… political scientist Stephen Skowronek's theory of the presidency suggests that presidential leadership goes in cycles. Several signs indicate that, in spite of impressive victories last week, Republicans could be on the verge of being a repudiated political minority for the next generation. Trump might join presidents like Jimmy Carter and Herbert Hoover, "disjunctive" presidents who sometimes win promising electoral victories, but soon break a cycle in which their party was dominant.
Several commentators are writing that Trump has redefined politics, reversing traditional Republican policies and flipping many of the districts that President Obama won. But in several ways, he fits the pattern of disjunctive presidents at the end of the generation of one party’s dominance. One sign of desperation is appealing so forcefully outside of a party's base, indicating strategic savvy for minority parties but weakness for a party that is supposedly dominant. Dwindling support for Ronald Reagan's traditional agenda forced Republicans to make new accommodations, for example. Another sign of desperation is nominating a candidate with tenuous connections to a party. Like Trump, other disjunctive presidents spent much of their career unaffiliated with the party that nominated them (think John Quincy Adams and Hoover). A robust Reagan regime would have nominated someone more obviously committed to its party inheritance.
A final sign of desperation is focus on technique over substantive reform, since efficiency is one of the few platforms everyone can agree on. Disjunctive presidents accept what policies are already in place but promise to run them better. While some of Trump’s promises are too odd to classify, much of his campaign boiled down to “I can do it better than you.” Trump claims to support free trade, but negotiate better trade deals than his predecessors. Although opposed to Obamacare, he insisted on an unspecified form of universal health care coverage during the primary debates. Where Hoover and Carter relied on their engineering expertise, Trump advertises his business background.
Disjunctive presidents pave the way for "reconstructive" presidents like Franklin Roosevelt and Reagan, whose parties enjoyed a long period of dominance.…This would accord with my hypothesis that the 2020's will be the transitionary period. By then, many if not most of the older Democrats will be gone and many Boomers replaced by Millennials, who will start coming into there own as the dominant generation. Shifting demographics will also support change.
What Trump’s Presidency Could Mean for the Future of the GOP
Chris Baylor | visiting assistant professor at Washington College