The biggest political story of 2015 will also be the biggest political story of 2016: The Republican base has divorced the Republican establishment.
The rupture has paralyzed Congress and polarized voters, both inside and outside GOP ranks.
And no one knows how to fix this broken political party.
The same political dynamic was at play in this year’s endless congressional votes to end ObamaCare; the 21st set of hearings on Benghazi; the calls to eliminate the IRS; the threats to damage the American economy by refusing to raise the debt ceiling; and more threats to shut down the government to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
The same forces are at play in the campaign for the GOP presidential nomination.
No establishment Republican is close to the top of polls, which are instead dominated by angry “insurgents.” Party insiders focused on defeating Democrats in November 2016 are already conducting an early version of the Republican National Committee’s “autopsy” that was done after the party’s second loss to President Obama in 2012.
Top GOP political strategists can hardly fathom that so many self-destructive rants against Latinos have been aired. They know the party needs Hispanic votes.
Meanwhile, the gratuitous fights certain male Republican candidates have had with women — over their looks and over federal spending on women’s healthcare — play into the Democrats’ claim of a GOP “war on women.”
2015 will be remembered as the year the Republican establishment totally lost control to the loud voices, all of whom are simply competing to be the most outrageous.
As a result, the GOP now clings to an unstable identity as the party that distrusts all government institutions, loathes Obama, hates immigrants and has no faith in the economy.
A party once encompassing Wall Street, eastern elites, southern social-religious conservatives and western libertarians has both fractured and narrowed.
GOP guru Karl Rove is already raising the likelihood of a primary season that ends without anyone winning the nomination outright, a prospect that would lead to a brokered convention.
That kind of fractious, spectacle has already been predicted by party elders, most notably former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson and former New York Sen. Al D’Amato.
And as Rove noted, the fighting at a brokered GOP convention is not likely to end quickly.
Already stories are popping up about panic from establishment leaders. The Washington Post recently reported that top Republican donors — a class that represents the heart of the establishment — are now sitting on the sidelines because of the prospect that Donald Trump, Ben Carson or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz could win the nomination.
Trump has consistently claimed a quarter of the Republican primary vote in polls since early summer. His closest competitor is Carson, another outsider with no history in party politics and no experience in government. Cruz has been shunned by his fellow Republicans in the Senate for much of his first term. Yet between them, these three have a steady hold on roughly 50 percent of Republican primary voters.
Early in the year, Republicans bragged that they had a strong line-up of candidates for the 2016 nomination. Now a Boston Globe poll shows that if Mitt Romney, the 2012 nominee, got into the New Hampshire primary, he would hold a 2-1 lead over Trump, the current top candidate.
In 2015, Romney has had to deny interest in running again on at least two occasions and yet he still holds attraction for GOP establishment voters.
Here is Peter Wish, a member of Romney’s 2012 national finance committee, as quoted in the Post:
“I’m very worried that the Republican-base voter is more motivated by anger, distrust of D.C. and politicians and will throw away the opportunity to nominate a candidate with proven experience that can win.”
The Wall Street Journal followed up with a story on establishment Republican efforts to raise money to derail Trump.
“In the absence of our efforts, Trump is exceedingly unlikely to implode or be forced out of the race,” according to a memo from a group launched by a former Republican National Committee official, Liz Mair.
Rick Wilson, a GOP media strategist, told the Journal that major GOP establishment players are “finally taking the threat that Trump will destroy the Republican Party and lose the general election to Hillary Clinton seriously.”
The civil war among Republicans also makes defense of their Senate majority extremely difficult. In 2016, the party will defend 24 seats, seven of them in states that Obama carried in both 2008 and 2012. The Democrats need to win six of those seats to regain the majority if a Republican wins the White House but only five if Democrats retain the presidency, given that the vice president can break a tie in the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellThough flawed, complex Medicaid block grants have fighting chance Sanders: 'If you don't have the guts to face your constituents,' you shouldn't be in Congress McConnell: Trump's speech should be 'tweet free' MORE (R-Ky.) is trying to appeal to his party’s far right by putting together a vote to cut funding for ObamaCare. But he can’t even get all the Senate Republicans running for president to sign on. They say the bill is weak because it fails to completely repeal the law.
What does it say about the GOP that it can’t even get it together to pass a symbolic protest vote on one issue they all hate?
It says the party is in for a damaging 2016.
Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.