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Trump’s Rise Pressures Both Parties to Change

The dynamic could possibly make this year as transformative as the elections of 1932 or 1968—but predicting a realignment is tricky.
An attendee waves a campaign flag outside of an event for Donald Trump in Cincinnati, Ohio, on July 6, 2016.

An attendee waves a campaign flag outside of an event for Donald Trump in Cincinnati, Ohio, on July 6, 2016.

Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

Daniel Akerson, a lifelong Republican, is voting for Hillary Clinton this fall. The Navy veteran and past chief executive officer and chairman of General Motors says Donald Trump lacks the temperament to be commander-in-chief. What Akerson says worries him more than that, though, is the possibility that Trump—and everything he represents—isn’t just a fluke but the future of the GOP. “I think there’s a real threat to the party,” he says. “It’s kind of unsettling to watch what’s going on.”

We like to think of the two major parties as fixed, known quantities, like donkeys and elephants. But they’ve always been chameleons. The Democratic Party traces its roots to 1792. The Republican Party goes back to 1854. They’ve survived by changing with the times, sometimes radically, even to the point of swapping positions on key issues, whether civil rights, foreign policy, or taxation. Republican hero Ronald Reagan began his political life as a New Deal Democrat. He switched his registration in 1962, before he ran for office. He always insisted he wasn’t the one who changed: “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me.”