AUSTIN -- The 2016 election is already historic, but could it hearken a once in a century shift in American politics?
It's been the summer of family feuds within the nation's major political establishments, and an election cycle University of Texas historian Dr. Jeremi Suri believes could usher in a dramatic realignment.
"It's generally not that one party summarily defeats the other, but that within parties, different factions develop," Suri explained.
"When you have conflict among two or three very strong factions that are somewhat evenly balanced, what you see happen is a party implode and a new set of parties emerge to replace it," Suri continued. "And that's I think what we're seeing right now with the Republican party."
"I think the national party split is more Trump and the Republican party -- whatever you want to call that," said veteran journalist and Texas Tribune executive editor Ross Ramsey. "In Texas, I think it's still a split between moderates and conservatives inside the Republican party."
The question: What if the split becomes a break?
"These moments of realignment are actually when big political change occurs," said Suri.
It's happened once every 40 to 60 years in the decades following the Civil War. Suri points to elections in 1860, 1896 and 1964. The sixties saw President Lyndon Johnson win sweeping reforms. Republicans who saw their power peak under President Dwight D. Eisenhower saw their fortunes reversed, while the Democrats' passage of civil rights legislation led to a dramatic reshuffling and rebranding of both parties.
The mid-century recalibration came on a wave of new activism.
"The transformation generally occurs because you have a large cohort of new voters entering the system who bring a different set of concerns and a different set of ideological predispositions," said Suri. "And that's exactly what we're seeing today."
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have each turned out new voters for their respective party, but opposing factions have become an increasing problem for Republicans. Since Trump's nomination, many high-profile GOP officeholders have either distanced themselves from their nominee or outright opposed him.
"Is the party going to split over this? It depends on how well established after November this new Trump movement is," offered Ramsey.
A loss could lead to a GOP divorce, with each faction laying claim to the original GOP mantle and searching for a candidate and platform capable of reunifying the party. Meanwhile, empowered Democrats could become more progressive.
"We're already seeing some signs of that," said Suri. "Then the Republican party will redefine itself not as what it is today, but as something different from that progressive set of changes that will occur within the next four years."
A Trump victory could yield very different results. Both parties agree the stakes are high in the 2016 election.
The bottom line: Its outcome could decide their future as well as the nation's.
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