Listening to Donald Trump in these debates, I’m struck by two things:
- He is going to win the GOP nomination.
- That will spell the death of the GOP.
He’s going to win the nomination because he has tapped into a “Populist” anger. As the Boston Globe quoted him in the last debate: “I will gladly accept the mantle of anger,” he said. “Our military is a disaster. Our health care is a horror show. Obamacare, we’re going to repeal it and replace it. We have no borders. Our vets are being treated horribly. Illegal immigration is beyond belief. Our country is being run by incompetent people. And yes, I am angry.” It is worth noting that none of his statements there are objectively true. But that doesn’t seem to matter to Republicans, who seem to be agreeing with his statements whole-heartedly. As are his rivals, who don’t want to appear “weak” by disagreeing with the rage of the white males. In fact, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Chris Christie are all attempting to out-Trump Trump, by raising their own levels of indignation with the incompetence of the Obama administration and the terrible state that America has fallen to under his watch.
It is obvious to all that Trump is driving this race, and he has been since he entered it. Unafraid of controversy, and funded by billions, he is free to say whatever he wants, and gleefully engage in “telling it like it is.” His rivals are unable to match his braggadocio, verve and derision of others because they have played the politics game of hedging safely too long to keep up. And the poor, white, God-fearing, American male, trained by years of WWE and the NFL, eats up his testosterone-laden pronouncements, and, barring some catastrophic collapse it looks like they will head to the polls and support him enough to carry him through to the convention. Momentum is on Trump’s side.
And that’s bad for the GOP. In the past, the pattern during the silly season has been to play to the base and foam at the mouth, then get the nomination, then wipe off the drool and drift to the center. Trump won’t follow this plan, because Trump can’t. He is trapping himself into this character that he has created. The base that is all riled up by his performances will feel utterly betrayed should he moderate his positions or his tone as he enters the general election, and it is an open question in my mind as to whether or not he even can moderate those things. So, should Trump win, which seems likely at this point, he will be in so deep as to not be able to do what’s necessary to win the overall election, which will be bad for his party. Why?
Firstly, Democrats, if they are remotely competent, should be able to pick up on the “__________ is from the party of Trump” opportunity to paint their opponents with the Trump brand of politics, energize their own base and make some gains in the House and Senate positions.
Secondly, Trump is paving the way for his successors, who will view his victory as the path to future dominance. Especially if the next president is a woman, they will come back in four years convinced that viciously disparaging her record with half truths will lead them to the promised land. And the GOP will become even more populist. And less able to appeal to moderates/centrists across the board, let alone women, people of color, thinking human beings…
So the GOP needs to have someone other than Trump win, or they risk a scenario where the long term prospects for the party is a series of losses on the national stage. If only their party had a living breathing leadership...