The GOP electorate has spent the summer collectively standing on the ledge, flirting with political suicide. Half seem so enamored by the euphoric feeling of poking the establishment in the eye that they have become what they loathe, embracing a bombastic, non-conservative with no general election appeal. The other half, dragged onto the ledge kicking and screaming in sheer disbelief, are ready to jump to end their own misery. Meanwhile, democrats, especially Hillary Clinton, rejoice that the WWF show created by the Trumpster is drawing the media’s attention away from politically damaging coverage of Clinton’s email scandal and the party’s contortionist-like support for Planned Parenthood and their Auschwitz-like abortion clinic tactics.
However, at long last, there are at least signs that Republican voters have caught sight of the ground below and realized that political suicide is not a very efficient way to make a political point. Let’s hope anyway. Though far from a certainty, the latest polls at least provide hope that real estate mogul and circus master Donald Trump has peaked and, with the withdrawal of Rick Perry and Scott Walker, more realistic GOP candidates are beginning to emerge and peck away at Trump’s lead.
The sad truth, however, is that the summer of Trump has done the most damage to candidates that were the most conservative. Sure Jeb Bush has faltered badly, but he is still in it, and because of his fund raising apparatus, likely will remain in it at least for the next several months. Setting aside Rick Perry, who never really had any traction, it is Scott Walker who Trump’s candidacy most damaged. Long a tea-party darling, the conservative governor of Wisconsin, who cut taxes, balanced his state’s budget, and stood up to unions, all while fighting back multiple attempts to unseat him, faded badly out of the gate and never really had a chance.
Likewise, Ted Cruz, though still in it, has yet to crack the top five in the GOP field and despite strong favorability ratings among conservative voters, has failed to generate much excitement. As I wrote in an earlier post, he must feel like the jilted boyfriend who did everything right only to watch his love run off with the tattooed, motorcycle-riding, bad boy from the wrong side of town.
Why? Because Tea Party conservatives, including evangelicals, have chosen to embrace Donald Trump, a man who advocates for tax increases, who until recently called himself “very pro choice,” who has confessed to rarely attending church and has a lifestyle history that suggests he wasn’t listening much on the occasions he did. I’m baffled, honestly. Yes, I get it that Trump stands up to the media and rankles the feathers of the so-called Republican establishment, but really? Supporting Trump is absolutely the best example I have ever encountered of the old adage about cutting off one’s nose to spite the face. Ted Cruz has also stood up against the media and called out the “establishment” wing of the Republican party, but he does so in the context of legitimate political ideas and substantive debate and discussion. Trump’s idea of substantive: “I will be so good at (fill in the blank) that it will be amazing.” Really? I mean, come on, conservatives, really???
Let’s face it, Trump rose to popularity solely based on his stark immigration talk. GOP voters, especially the far-right conservative segment of the party, have long been frustrated by the lack of any action to curb illegal immigration. They know that the social welfare system instituted by liberal politicians over the last several decades is heading for collapse and that the addition of these immigrants will only hasten such collapse and the economic chaos that will surely follow.
They are angry about the drug trafficking which wrecks the lives of so many American young people while sending money (often stolen from family and friends) back to criminals in Mexico and leads to millions more spent at treatment centers here to try to repair the damage. They worry about losing their culture and are rightly terrified about the national security risks associated with such an easily penetrated border. All these concerns are justified and understandable. Trump was right to point out these problems associated with the immigration issue. Unfortunately he chose to do so in a way that fueled the worst lies that liberals perpetuate about people who want to crack down on illegal immigration—namely that it is driven by racism and xenophobia. Sadly, though Trump’s brash talk may resonate with the frustrated base, it will do little to sway voters that could actually help make such policies happen.
Conservatives often scoff at the idea that moderates need to be swayed, but it seems only logical to conclude that if conservatives alone had sufficient political strength to enact such policies they would already be in place. Therefore, we need to win voters over. We certainly have a better chance of doing so with moderate voters than with far-left leaning liberals who basically advocate for open borders and who quite literally, I believe, hope that doing so will forever alter the general electorate and put America even more firmly on the path to a European-like socialist system. Ignoring moderates and attacking our own party members who hazard to suggest compromise, will almost certainly lead us to yet another defeat. Many conservatives feel that Republicans have lost the last two presidential elections because the party did not offer a true, conservative alternative to the democratic candidate.
Such reasoning is absurd. Mitt Romney was very clearly more conservative on any issue one can think of than Barak Obama, probably the most liberal president in history. Staying home and thereby helping ensure Obama’s election is akin to a starving man turning down a burger because it isn’t a steak. Again, really?
This post has focused on the presidential campaign, but GOP bickering is not just a presidential matter. Infighting in the GOP congressional delegation is not helping the party. Tea party backers and far right leaning republican voters are no doubt celebrating the resignation of speaker John Boehner. To be clear, I have not been a fan of Boehner. The whole crying thing got him off to a bad start and established the narrative which he has been unable to shake of a weak leader. Likewise, McConnell has too often seemed too eager to “reach across the aisle,” despite how many times it has resulted in having his hand bitten and the utter unwillingness of democrats to capitulate.
However, the idea that Boehner and McConnell are the reasons that the GOP/conservative agenda has been thwarted in just stupid, to use a Trump-like invective. Barak Obama and his veto power are the reasons the conservative agenda has little chance of succeeding at this point. While it is true that the GOP controls both houses of congress, it is also true that their thin majority is not sufficient to override certain presidential vetoes on key planks of the Obama agenda e.g., Obamacare and now the Iran nuclear deal).
Absent control of the executive branch, a party needs a veto-proof majority (67 in the senate) to effectively influence public policy. At present, in the senate the GOP lacks sufficient strength to even achieve cloture on key bills. I realize that democrats have in the past blown up senate rules and traditions to achieve their legislative goals, but they did so knowing that their party controlled the executive and that such measures would be supported by the president. On the contrary, should the GOP change rules to bypass cloture, they would do so with the knowledge that a certain veto awaited. I’m not sure how forcing a presidential veto advances the GOP argument since the president has clearly made his stance known.
The real sin that GOP leadership is guilty of is making promises to the electorate over the past several campaign seasons without sufficiently explaining that absent a veto –proof majority (or at least the ability to reach cloture) the party was certain to be hard pressed to keep.
Tea Party conservatives complain about the lack of true conservatism among the so-called GOP establishment (if you can’t tell, I hate this narrative), yet not a single Republican supported either the Iran nuclear deal or Obamacare. The “establishment” is also accused of failing to support some Tea Party candidates in general elections, thus leading to the election of democrats. This too is rubbish. The problem, too often, has been that Tea Party zealots have run hard line conservatives without vetting their overall electability (see Christine O’Donnell, Todd Akin, and Sharron Angle). Recall that in the wave election of 2010 voters were deeply dissatisfied with the democrats and all three of these races, especially the Akin and Angle races, held the real potential for a GOP flip had the party ran its strongest candidates rather than simply the ones that managed to move the farthest right.
Akin actually enjoyed a substantial lead before his “legitimate” rape comments doomed his candidacy. His refusal to withdraw and allow a more electable candidate a shot is a microcosm of how GOP in-fighting has damaged the party. To be clear, democrats may very well have held on to these seats anyway, but imagine what the party might have accomplished by flipping those three seats and dislodging Harry Reid as senate leader.
Likewise, attacks by moderates on strong conservatives such as Ted Cruz only serve to reinforce the narrative that the “establishment” does not embrace conservative values. These divisions within the party do not bode well for the unified effort that will be needed to regain the White House, whoever the democratic nominee might be. Democrats do not have such divisions, at least not amongst the punditry and the politicians themselves, though the electorate is clearly anxious about Hillary Clinton.
While no one can seriously doubt that Clinton is becoming more annoyed by the day with Bernie Sanders and all the talk of a possible Joe Biden run, she has been careful to avoid criticism of either, no doubt recognizing that she will need full support of their backers in the general election. Instead she has confined her attacks to GOP candidates, along familiar lines such as the war on women, republican bigotry, social injustice, etc.
GOP voters, especially those in its conservative wing, hate how democrats frame these “issues,” arguing (correctly) that there is no war on women and that GOP supporters are no more bigoted than democrat supporters, possibly less. Yet, these fallacious attacks are made easier by the invective of the current front runner and play into the narrative that democrats feed to moderate voters otherwise inclined toward GOP policies. Which is why the apparent peak in support for Trump is good, and hopefully, lasting news.
The polls all show an electorate deeply dissatisfied with both the direction of the country and our current president. Clinton’s email scandal and democrats’ continued support of Planned Parenthood and their grotesque practices, leave both extremely vulnerable to a solid (but one) GOP field. This is no time for conservatives to be flirting with disaster, stamping around on the ledge, just to show we can.
One could fall, after all.