The agony of the Republican Party

In case anyone missed the news, Hillary Clinton crushed Bernie Sanders in the Democrat primary in South Carolina on Saturday, winning 73.5% to 26.0%, a margin of more than 175,000 votes.

Clinton was always going to win the state, but she needed to win well, and did. Nate Silver had calculated beforehand that she needed to win by more than 20 percentage points to stay on track for the nomination, so 47 points is pretty good.

Already, the Democrat race was getting less than its fair share of attention, and that’s now going to get worse, as Clinton heads for a set of victories on Tuesday that will make her all but unbeatable. Everyone just wants to talk about the Republicans, and one Republican in particular. Donald Trump.

Last week I suggested that in many respects Trump would be no worse a president than Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz. That question remains a source of much controversy.

Harry Enten pointed out more than a month ago that Rubio and (even more so) Cruz are not that appealing a prospect for anyone whose politics veer towards sanity. But many put Trump in a special category: Danielle Allen at the Washington Post compared him to Hitler and called for a cross-party effort to “to make common cause against this formidable threat to our equally shared liberties”; Juan Cole at Informed Comment says his rise “is an indictment of, and a profound danger to the American republic.”

And a long profile by Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone analyses but also epitomises the country’s fascination with Trump:

It turns out we let our electoral process devolve into something so fake and dysfunctional that any half-bright con man with the stones to try it could walk right through the front door and tear it to shreds on the first go.

Some are also pointing out, however, that the Trump campaign has not come out of nowhere: that he is merely giving a cruder shape to themes that have been a staple of Republican campaigns for many years now, and that even where he differs from Republican orthodoxy, he is still trading on the anger and resentment that those campaigns have stoked.

Opponents of the GOP, of course, have been saying this for a while; Jon Chait, for example, at New York magazine, says that conservative elites are seeing “the forces they have successfully harnessed for so long shake free and turn against them.” But now some Republicans are waking up.

In a remarkable piece a few days ago in the Washington Post, prominent neoconservative Robert Kagan described Trump as the party’s “Frankenstein’s monster, brought to life by the party, fed by the party and now made strong enough to destroy its maker.” He calls openly for a vote for Clinton, saying “The party cannot be saved, but the country still can be.”

Kagan is not the first Republican to prefer Clinton to Trump; Mark Salter, former chief-of-staff to John McCain, did so in a trenchant column the previous day. But Kagan is so far on his own in acknowledging that the party’s fanatical anti-Obama strategy – shared, of course, by Rubio and Cruz – has helped make Trump possible.

The race is not yet over: if Trump falters in the Super Tuesday primaries tomorrow night, or even if Rubio does well enough to become his sole rival, it’s easy to imagine him losing. But at the moment those look like very big “ifs”. Endorsement from Chris Christie gave Turmp a major boost in respectability, and recent reporting on decision-making among the Republican establishment conveys an impression of blind panic.

The latest betting market now gives Trump a better than 75% chance at the nomination; Rubio has fallen to 17.9% and Cruz has crashed to 2%, equal with John Kasich. Super Tuesday usually seals the race, so it’s possible that this contest is almost over. But the battle for the soul of the Republican Party may be just beginning.







5 thoughts on “The agony of the Republican Party

  1. “the battle for the soul of the Republican Party may be just beginning.”

    It is a bigger battle than that. I suspect that much of the US population believes that the government is out of its control.

    Even with an outsider like Trump as president, how long before smarter minds than his (plenty of those) would tie him in knots or corrupt him?

    Is democracy only a facade in the US?


  2. Peter Darco, Crikey’s claim about understanding very much at all let alone their grandiose claim of understanding the world is gross hubris.
    Regardless of whether your opinion that, “much of the US population believes that the government is out of its control is correct”, the Crikey Cabal show no signs of being aware how out of control its purported ‘thinking’ is, so it’s unwise of you to rely for them re any opinions you adopt.
    Finally, you really should try to understand that while we don’t like Trump’s views, he is a damned sight smarter than most of those who denigrate his abilities.


  3. Where is the evidence the the Repub party has a soul? Small government? Individual rights (a.k.a civil liberties)? The Repug’s have been saying one thing and doing the opposite for decades, Trump is just a less controlled liar than usual.
    The claim that the triple bankrupt is smart is simply stupid, given the impossibility of fulfilling the promises he is making.


  4. For the sake of democracy in America one can but hope that a more measured, rational Republican Party (sans fellow traveller NRA) can survive the coming train wreck.


  5. Thanks everyone. A few thoughts:

    Peter – No doubt the American political system has become deeply dysfunctional. But I think the leaders of the Republican Party need to take a lot of the blame for that; they’ve been feeding people’s hatreds and paranoia for a long time. Although in form Trump is an outsider, I think he’s well within the political framework that they’ve established.

    Norman – I don’t know who the “Crikey cabal” is supposed to be, but if it includes, say, Guy Rundle, Bernard Keane, Glenn Dyer & me, then it’s a very broad church of a cabal. As to Trump’s abilities, I don’t really know; he’s certainly smart in a crafty streetwise sort of way, but it’s hard to say how far his abilities extend. I agree he shouldn’t be underestimated.

    Liam – Yes, good point about the GOP’s soul; I guess I was using the term more in moral than policy terms. See above as to Trump’s stupidity or otherwise – lots of very smart people have made impossible promises before.

    Graybul – indeed, we can only hope.


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