So far, the transitions between the last four United States political party systems have been as thus:
#1 Third to Fourth Party System -Same very high level of political polarization (almost no swing districts, voting record polarization in Congress, etc.), but different and less stable geographic party bases (Republicans winning Manhattan, Democrats winning Colorado and Nebraska), with soaring geographical party polarization. Arguably, there were new partisan issues, but the Third Party System Greenbackers weren’t all that different from the Fourth Party System’s Populists, Socialists, Progressives, and Farmer-Laborers. They mostly wanted the country to go in a similar direction.
#2 Fourth to Fifth Party System -Similar and mostly stable geographic party bases, but rapidly declining level of polarization due to rapidly changing meaning of DW-NOMINATE first dimension during the beginning of the party system.
#3 Fifth to Sixth Party System -Similarly low level of polarization, but newly wildly variable geographic party bases
#4 Sixth to Seventh Party System -Much higher level of polarization and newly stabilized geographic party bases
I’m not seeing any sign of #1. Trump may sound like he’s bringing new issues to the table (like Bryan did), but he’s not destabilizing or even changing the geographic party bases at all, and, unlike Bryan, isn’t increasing the level of geographical party polarization -he’s decreasing it. He might, like Bryan, be bringing new issues to the table, but Republicans’ role as protectors of the Old Economy began in 2000, when they captured West Virginia after the Democrats nominated prominent environmentalist Al Gore (who lost his home state due to his insufficient support for family values). Trump isn’t changing that dynamic.
#2’s possible only if Trump gets elected President. But I simply can’t see Trump being as transformative a figure to the Republican Party as FDR. Sure, Mike Pence might be his John Nance Garner -a typical party figure whom the President almost entirely ignores- but I think Trump is going to act mostly like a typical Republican as President. He’s not going to turn the Fifth Party System and later DW-NOMINATE first dimension back to the mostly protectionist-based Fourth Party System one (I think). If Trump does this, however, and succeeds in depolarizing today’s very polarized Seventh Party System, he will succeed in realigning the country. But I doubt that’ll happen. Mike Lee will remain on the Far Right. Bernie Sanders will remain on the Far Left. The GOP isn’t going to get kicked out of the Great Plains and Mountain West, nor will it expand into Rhode Island.
BTW, if Trump is the GOP’s FDR, it must be noted there was no Al Smith to foreshadow the party’s future in the election before him. The 1928 election really was demonstrably a realigning election, as it cracked the Solid North in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Trump isn’t doing anything like that. Romney didn’t do anything like that either.
#3 is obviously not the case.
#4 -This is today’s party system.
So the 2016 election, no matter what people tell you, is very probably not a realigning one, but simply another one in the Seventh Party System.