Earlier this week, when Ted Cruz quit his campaign, I thought the Republican establishment may have convinced the Senator to step aside and give primary voters a chance to rally behind the less creepy and more mainstream John Kasich. Perhaps a unified opposition could deny Donald Trump victories in the remaining states and prevent him from clinching the nomination before the convention.
I should have known better.
First, Cruz — “Lucifer in the flesh” — probably never did anything for anyone’s benefit but his own.
Second, Kasich dropped out within 24 hours; Trump will finish the slate of primaries unopposed by any active rivals.
Some GOP leaders are moving uncomfortably to embrace their presumptive nominee, but others are keeping their distance, including both Presidents Bush and the current Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan.
So, what is the “strategery” behind the apparent Republican surrender of their presidential nomination to a narcissistic and intellectually illiterate protofascist demagogue?
If they are hoping for GOP primary voters to turn out en masse to vote for various quitters to spite Trump and produce a contested convention, then they will be bitterly disappointed. Generating the requisite turnout would require massive effort and organization, and the party has no appetite for that.
It appears that Republican leaders have given up on the notion of a contested convention. Having read the polls, they know that most Americans would view it as illegitimate and undemocratic if a candidate won most of the primaries only to lose the nomination in a convention floor fight. The new candidate, no matter how appealing, would emerge hobbled by the political machinations that secured his nomination. He would lose, and collateral damage down the ticket would erode or erase GOP majorities in Congress.
The Republicans likely understand that they have little hope of winning the White House. At this point, their goal is probably to keep control of Congress and minimize the mandate of the next Democrat in the White House.
Party leaders will not unify behind Trump unless he embraces the party’s core principles and broadens his appeal. However, the billionaire is probably too proud and undisciplined to make and keep the commitments needed to satisfy GOP skeptics.
Republican activists and donors will likely adapt by minimizing their support for Trump and maximizing their efforts in House and Senate races.
Meanwhile, dissident Republicans will draft a conventional conservative to run an independent or third-party campaign for president. This new candidate will urge supporters to choose him over Trump, but to vote GOP down the ticket to keep control of Congress.
This effort — coupled with a huge gerrymandered advantage — should serve to defend the Republican majority in the House and may salvage it in the Senate, too.
Splitting the conservative presidential vote will probably ensure that a Democrat wins the White House, but if Republicans retain control of Congress and continue to refuse bipartisan compromises, then they can still stymie the new president as they have thwarted Obama since 2011. Prolonging a poor status quo will be bad for the country, but potentially good for the GOP in the 2018 midterms and 2020 presidential election.
One way or another, we’re all going to feel the Bern
In all likelihood, only Bernie Sanders and his supporters can deliver or deny the White House to the Democrats.
- The most probable scenario is that Hillary Clinton wins the nomination, makes concessions to win solid support from the Bern Unit, and wins the election. Strong Democratic unity would likely deliver additional gains down the ticket in the form of a Senate majority and attenuated Republican control of the House.
- However, if Sanders were to pick up his marbles, quit the party and run as an independent, then a fractured four-way vote could deny any candidate a majority in the Electoral College. That would throw the election to the current Republican-dominated House of Representatives, ensuring a conservative victory.
- Even if Sanders supports Clinton, his supporters may not follow suit. If they vote Green or stay home, then the Democrats could lose the White House and gain no traction in Congress.
- If Sanders were to beat the odds and become the party’s nominee, then conservatives would unleash the Kraken and crucify him as a Communist. That would be unfair and largely inaccurate, but if Americans had to choose among a socialist, a fascist and a conservative, then the socialist might finish second or third, but he would not win.
The official Clinton and Sanders campaigns have generally hewn to the high ground, but both sides need to disavow the character assassination trolls in their midst. Internal division is the only possible path to Democratic defeat.
Past performance is not a guarantee of future results
Predictions of doom for the GOP seem premature.
Political parties have recovered from worse. Before 1896, Democrats stood mainly for low taxes, small government and white supremacy. It took five decades for the party to transcend the ideologies of Jefferson and Jackson and embrace first economic justice under Bryan, Wilson and FDR, and then racial equality under Harry Truman and LBJ.
Republicans, on the other hand, formed originally as an antislavery party. Lincoln saved the Union and brought emancipation. Grant crushed the terrorism of the first Ku Klux Klan to secure voting and civil rights for black southerners for a few years during Reconstruction. (Sadly, his successors sold African Americans down the river to serve big business and build an overseas empire.)
During the Progressive Era, Theodore Roosevelt, Bill Taft and other Republicans broke up monopolies, promoted democracy, supported redistribution of wealth, and regulated businesses to protect consumers, workers and the natural environment. (Their successors abandoned those reforms in the ‘20s.)
In the ’40s and ’50s, the GOP grew out of isolationism and supported World War II, the United Nations and Truman’s Cold War strategy. Eisenhower rehabilitated the party domestically by accepting the New Deal. Republicans joined with northern Democrats to pass LBJ’s civil rights agenda (before pivoting to racial conservatism and making the GOP the majority party for forty years by recruiting disgruntled southern whites).
Even over the last four decades — despite reckless deregulation, unrealistically low taxes and unsustainable deficits — Republicans have made positive contributions. Reagan granted amnesty to more than 3 million undocumented workers and collaborated constructively with Gorbachev to wind down the Cold War. Bush the Elder signed the Americans with Disabilities Act and worked through the UN to build a coalition to reverse Iraq’s conquest of Kuwait. Bush the Younger improved Medicare and collaborated with Ted Kennedy to pass No Child Left Behind, a flawed but laudable effort to improve educational quality and equality.
If Republicans can find a way to cut the malignant cancers of Trump and the Tea Party from their body politic, then the GOP could find its way back to playing a functional role in our historically bipartisan system.