The November election is just a little over four months away, and things still aren’t going in the right direction for presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows him trailing Hillary Clinton by a whopping 12 points. While some supporters (and Trump himself) have been complaining that the poll is skewed, the fact is that no national poll has shown Trump in the lead for about six weeks now.
Additionally, more prominent Republicans are making their opposition to Trump heard loud and clear, including Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and famed conservative columnist George Will; Will even left the party over it.
Though four months can be an eternity in politics, and anything can certainly still happen, enthusiastic Trump supporters are already looking for scapegoats to blame for a potentially epic Trump loss on election night. The rhetoric toward conservative Trump critics on cable news commentary and social media has switched sharply from “Get on the Trump Train or get out of the way” to “You’re handing Hillary the White House!” The same conservative holdouts, who were deemed irrelevant by the Trump faithful not so long ago, are now being identified as the cause of their candidate’s strong unpopularity with the general electorate.
It’s almost as if this situation hadn’t been foreseen, in poll after poll for the better part of a year, even before a plurality of primary voters chose Trump over Republican candidates who were favored to beat Hillary Clinton.
Blaming those who saw the writing on the wall early, and warned of the consequences of a Trump nomination, is ridiculous. But blame will certainly be cast somewhere if Trump loses the election, so the question might as well be asked: Who should that blame rightfully fall on?
I’ll agree with the Trump people on one thing: a Trump loss wouldn’t be due to the strength of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Clinton has proven herself to be an incredibly weak, unlikable, and untrustworthy candidate, and she seems unable to change that public perception.
No, the correct blame should fall squarely on the shoulders of the political right. Not Clinton. Not the Democratic Party.
One could simply pin it on the primary voters who chose an unelectable candidate, and ultimately they’d be right. But I think they’d need to share that blame with those who compelled them to choose an unelectable candidate.
Let’s break those people down:
Yes, Mr. Trump would of course be to blame (at least in part) for his own loss. That should go without saying.
Not everyone believes that Trump entered the race with an honest motivation to help his fellow Americans, and make his country strong and secure. Some believe it began as a publicity stunt that got carried away, and put Trump in a position where he had to keep up the rouse in order to spare himself from deep personal embarrassment and scorn. Those of you who’ve seen the “Scott’s Tots” episode of The Office probably have an idea of what I’m talking about.
Regardless, presidential candidates have a responsibility to take the effort seriously. Throughout his campaign, Trump has resisted opportunity after opportunity to educate himself on important policies and issues that affect many Americans’ lives. Instead, he has relied almost exclusively on platitudes, demagoguery, and a verbal thrashing of his opponents. This was enough to win a primary. It won’t be enough to win a general election.
Sure, Trump has recently added the occasional scripted speech to his thin arsenal, but his delivery leaves listeners with the sense that Trump himself is learning things for the very first time while reading the words aloud.
When you add on Trump’s reflexive dishonesty, his legendary thin skin, his offensive conduct, his passion for self-congratulation, and his leanings toward authoritarianism, voters have been left with serious concerns about his temperament and governing style.
Even when you remove Trump’s continually changing political ideology from the equation, his character issues strike many people as disqualifying. Character is something that transcends politics, and when it comes across as poorly as Trump’s does, it’s a potentially fatal problem.
Trump’s unofficial surrogates in the conservative media
There is no greater uniter of the Republican Party and the conservative movement than Hillary Clinton. She has been adamantly disliked by the right for decades, and her conduct in regard to Benghazi and her private email server only strengthened that unity. How then did the most divisive GOP candidate — the one in the worst position to beat her — end up as the party’s presumptive nominee?
Part of the explanation ties back to D.C. politicians and the RNC; I’ll get to that later. Another portion can be attributed to the influential media-conservatives who abandoned their long-preached platforms, and threw in with exactly the type of candidate they’d long warned their viewers and listeners to reject.
Not all media-conservatives sold out their ideological principles for Mr. Trump, but a surprising number of them did. They had demanded conservative purity within the Republican Party for years (even decades) on television and radio, and they rallied a large portion of the base behind them in that effort. Then, almost overnight, they decided that a left-leaning vulgarian with a boat-load of charisma was worthy of their unconditional loyalty and promotion.
They made excuses for Trump when he trashed American POWs, mocked a disabled reporter, and spread racist sentiment over a “Mexican judge.” They shrugged their shoulders when he attributed a female colleague’s tough line of questioning to her menstrual cycle, and shrugged again when his campaign manager later threatened her. They remained silent on Trump’s conspiracy theories that implicated fellow Republicans (and their families) of war crimes and the assassination of an American president. They dismissed Trump’s government-heavy beliefs on healthcare, entitlements, trade, and a variety of other issues that they’d lambasted President Obama for pursuing for years.
These opinion-makers, who’d been instrumental in shaping and empowering the conservative base over much of their careers, normalized and vouched for the conservative credentials of a man who was far from normal and wasn’t a conservative — certainly not by their strict definition of conservatism. Ultimately, a pat on the head from a billionaire business mogul (a personal friend to several of them), and an opportunity for increased ratings, became more important than conservative policies and conservative governance. These were the prescriptions that media-conservatives had uniformly written as remedies for all of the country’s ailments, and they were suddenly being treated as easily discarded junk science.
This implosion of what the Republican Party was supposed to be about has spawned an enormous amount of confusion and resentment. Many grassroots and movement conservatives, who’d bought in to the old blueprint, are now being identified as obstructionists by those who’d sold them on it. They’ve been lumped in with “the establishment” and called “elites” for opposing Donald Trump on principle. They’re being told that they no longer matter, but that they’d better fall in line or else the future nomination of liberal Supreme Court justices will be their fault.
The methods used by Trump’s media cronies have done potentially irreversible damage to the base. If they’re banking on a Trump victory in November somehow redeeming them, they’re fools.
GOP politicians and the Republican National Committee
No, the infamous “GOP Establishment” and the RNC aren’t off the hook. Despite often being held to unrealistic expectations by an increasingly angry and frustrated base, Republican leaders have done little to demonstrate just how they’ve served the constituents who’ve elected them into majorities in Washington.
Republican politicians run on promises of shrinking the size and scope of government (knowing that an Obama veto and the absence of super-majorities make that difficult), and when government continues to grow and tighten its grip around Americans’ lives, a sense of betrayal escalates. The economy is still struggling after eight years, wages are stagnant, and the terror threat is off the charts. After losing the last two presidential elections, a significant portion of the desperate base (and the electorate as a whole) is prepared to try something — anything — radically different. Hence, the rise of Trump.
The RNC and elected D.C. Republicans haven’t done enough to explain why they should be holding the reins they’ve been handed, or why their records aren’t the utter failures they’re perceived to be. That’s a shame. As Charles Cooke of National Review pointed out in a piece last month, the party actually has some things to brag about:
“Had the GOP not been standing in the way — both from 2008, when it was in the minority everywhere, and from 2010, when it regained the House — the United States would look dramatically different than it does today. Without the GOP manning the barricades, Obamacare could well have been single payer, and, at the very least, the law would have included a ‘public option.’ Without the GOP manning the barricades, we’d have seen a carbon tax or cap-and-trade — or both. Without the GOP manning the barricades, we’d have got union card check, and possibly an amendment to Taft-Hartley that removed from the states their power to pass ‘right to work’ exemptions. Without the GOP standing in the way, we’d now have an ‘assault weapons’ ban, magazine limits, background checks on all private sales, and a de facto national gun registry. And without the GOP standing in the way in the House, we’d have got the very amnesty that the Trump people so fear.”
Yet, much of the Republican base (a majority, in fact) doesn’t see things that way. One reason is that voters don’t feel the results. Another reason is that the RNC hasn’t effectively conveyed the party’s legislative victories. Granted, the conservative media and their pitchforks haven’t made it easy for them, but that’s an obstacle that can be overcome with good branding and solid communication — both of which have been lacking for years.
Without pride in their party, many Republicans decided in this presidential election that a candidate having previously served in public office under the party banner was not qualified to hold higher office. This proved to be the case, even if that candidate espoused precisely the qualities the base had long been demanding. This mindset (along with a virtual monopolization of media coverage of Trump) left over a dozen candidates from the ridiculously bloated primary field with one arm tied behind their back.
The mainstream media
A billionaire reality-television celebrity running for the presidency is a big story. It deserves a lot of coverage. It doesn’t, however, deserve nearly the level of coverage it has received. During much of the Republican primary, Trump’s candidacy was treated as the only game in town, making him appear as the candidate most worthy of the public’s interest. The other candidates found it nearly impossible to get meaningful national attention, and that deficit was highly detrimental to their chances of winning.
Trump is great for ratings, and Trump as the Republican nominee was deemed great for Hillary Clinton. Now that he has claimed that title, the real vetting has begun.
How will the Republican Party recover?
Even if Donald Trump manages to defy all of the odds, and pull out a victory in November, the Republican Party will have some serious trouble recovering from the election of 2016. A significant minority of the base has made it clear that the party’s conservative platform and philosophy are no longer of interest to them. Neither is personal integrity in their country’s leader.
Regardless of the outcome of the election, our next president (if you believe what the candidates have been saying) will pursue a big-government agenda that will bury this country with more debt, more control, and less opportunity. And with Trump, it would be done under the mantle of the traditionally conservative party. The long-term, disastrous results could make the GOP (and conservatism as a whole) irrelevant on the national scene for a generation.
Imagine how much more blame would come from that.