Donald the Trump and the Destruction of The Republican Party (?)

April 3, 2016

Donald the Trump and the Destruction of The Republican  Party (?)

by Ben Jacobs in Washington

Supporters listen as Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Wisconsin. Wisconsin voters go to the polls for the state’s primary on April 5.

Trump’s Supporters

Republican strategists privately fear that both the Senate and perhaps even the House could be lost if Trump is the Republican nominee. Swing voters and suburbanites and women will run away from the party, while Latino and African-American voters who may be unexcited by Hillary Clinton will be motivated to turn out and vote against a candidate whom they perceive to be a racist.–Ben Jacobs

After Mitt Romney failed to beat a vulnerable Barack Obama in 2012, a chastened Republican party arrived pretty quickly at the answer to their electability problem.

They were the party of old, angry white men, and in a much-heralded Washington DC press conference in March 2013, senior officials released an “autopsy report” concluding that to win back the White House, the party needed to appeal to young voters, women and minorities.

Three years later, Donald Trump, who is historically unpopular among every one of those demographics, is the frontrunner for the party’s nomination. To paraphrase David Byrne, how did the Republican party get here?

Supporters listen as Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders addresses a rally at the Verizon Theater in Grand Prairie, Texas.

Young Americans for Bernie (The Bern)

In a series of interviews with party insiders, operatives and elected officials, the party’s predicament is clear – Trump is on the verge of completing a hostile takeover – but as top Republican consultant John Brabender said: “Everybody may have a small piece of the answer, but I’m not sure if anyone has the answer.”

With the next primary contest looming in Wisconsin on Tuesday, the two most plausible scenarios for the Republican convention in July are either that Trump is the nominee or that complete and total anarchy ensues – and no one knows which option will be more damaging at the general election in November or to the future of the party.

The reasons are complex, but the grassroots rage against the machine was clearly evident. Brabender, like many others, saw dissatisfaction with Barack Obama as a key impetus for the rise of Trump. Obama has long been a hate figure on the right and Trump’s coalition includes both diehard conservatives and disaffected blue-collar Democrats.

Talented, electable Republicans were pushed aside in the midst of the Tea Party furor

But he also saw “an incredible distaste for Washington DC” going back to 2010 when the Republican grassroots responded strongly to rightwing candidates who were prone to outrageous statements. Talented, electable Republicans were pushed aside in the midst of the Tea Party furor which had been touched off by rage at Obama’s economic stimulus and his “socialist” health insurance reforms.

The anti-Washington fever within the party base wasn’t diminished when Republicans regained control of the House in 2010. Instead, it was only further increased as Tea Partiers, anxious to undo key Obama initiatives, were dissatisfied with the pace of progress.

In 2012, Rick Santorum, whom Brabender worked for, was able to tap into some of the same reservoir of discontent that now fuels Trump.

“Mitt Romney should have won that [primary] going away,” Brabender said. Instead, Santorum won 11 states and, since then, Brabender said “a lot of fuel has been added to that fire” as discontent grew with a Republican Congress.

Growing anger

Congressman Tom Massie (above), an ardent libertarian from Kentucky, argued that voters who hated “Big Government” were frustrated that “the Republican party has been feckless at the job of stopping the expansion of government with Obama in office”.

Republicans in the congressional leadership had also totally ignored the signs of discontent in the party’s base. After Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, lost his 2014 primary in perhaps the most shocking upset in modern American political history, Massie said the growing anger was simply never talked about. He recalled that Cantor ran the weekly, members-only meeting of the Republican caucus. Then, after his primary loss, the Virginia Republican just wasn’t there any more. “Nobody ever talked about Cantor not being there. It was like he had a heart attack,” Massie said.

After Mitt Romney failed to beat a vulnerable Barack Obama in 2012, the Republican Party concluded that it needed to appeal to young voters, women and minorities.

For party grandees, sticking their heads in the sand left them unable to cope with the tempest whipping up dissent. Rick Wilson, a prominent Republican consultant who has become a vocal Trump opponent, argued that much of the New York tycoon’s outrage towards Washington was stoked by what he called “the entertainment wing of the Republican party”.

The trouble with Obama was that they couldn’t defeat him, so they went after congressional Republicans.

This group, which he described as consisting of “certain parts of the Fox News evening lin up, talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin … and the fever swamp of the conservative message machine had spent years looking for the perfect villain”.

The trouble with identifying Obama as that villain was that they couldn’t defeat him, so they turned upon their own and went after congressional Republicans in Washington because “they won’t do everything perfect and won’t commit to burning down the village”, Wilson said. The problem wasn’t that congressional Republicans were ignoring the grassroots, it was that the Republican base had been “primed” to demand the impossible.

Wilson, however, has no love for the establishment and expressed frustration that the party needed to present a “forward-looking agenda that isn’t the same old tax cuts and trade deals and all the official bullshit of official Washington”.

‘A candidate of grievances’

But the increase in populist unrest within the Republican base isn’t the only reason for Trump’s rise. As Stuart Stevens, top strategist for Mitt Romney in 2012 said, there is also “the Guns of August theory” referencing the chain of events that led to the start of the first world war. As he described it, “a theory of unintended consequences by miscalculations, cowardice and ineptitude”.

The reasons for Trump-mania are complex, but the grassroots rage against the machine is clearly evident.

Donald Trump–A Candidate of Grievances

So, in a stressful economic time, Trump has emerged as “a candidate of grievances” and managed to slip through the many pitfalls and traps laid for outsider candidates in the Republican primary process.

The rules were specifically designed to aid an establishment candidate like Jeb Bush in 2016, but without the fundraising and political infrastructure normally required for a successful candidate, Trump’s celebrity has overcome all obstacles. In fact, some of the changes, like the front-loading of earlier primary contests have rebounded to Trump’s benefit, as the frontrunner has been able to escape prolonged scrutiny of political gaffes due to the constant churn of election nights.

To Stevens, people aren’t “really focused on what Trump is saying except on a couple of issues”. For example, he didn’t think “it’s Trump’s stance on immigration that is drawing voters with a lot of fervor, it’s Trump’s racist language”.

Brabender saw Trump as running ‘a protest campaign’ … ‘people want radical change in some capacity’

Among his base constituency of older, less-educated and predominantly white voters, Trump has become a vehicle for a broader discontent with the vast economic changes over the past few decades that have seen the US shift from an industrial economy to a service-based economy.

Brabender saw Trump as running “a protest campaign”. He said “people have got to the point that they want radical change in some capacity and not even sure they know what those changes are, but they want them, and are willing to sacrifice their votes to make things happen.”

Supporters listen as Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Wisconsin. Wisconsin voters go to the polls for the state’s primary on April 5.

But the protest candidate is increasingly looking like the nominee. Stevens didn’t think Republican leaders had “a strategy to survive as a party with Trump” and noted the frontrunner’s calamitous week where he veered first from “full-throated defense of violence against women” in the case of a reporter manhandled by his chief of staff, to an extreme call for punishing women who have abortions.

In Stevens’ eyes, “there’s not a national party that exists in America, not a regional party” that could support that platform, adding “you couldn’t get elected in Mississippi articulating that”. The native Mississippian then added: “You couldn’t get out of a bar defending violence against women.”

For some conservatives, the remark about abortion was not only damaging, it was exasperating proof that Trump was an impostor pretending to be a conservative, playing to the gallery with no grasp of what ardent pro-life campaigners really stood for.

Damage control

For many top Republicans, the White House has already been written off for another four years. The goal now is to limit the damage.

Republican strategists privately fear that both the Senate and perhaps even the House could be lost if Trump is the Republican nominee. Swing voters and suburbanites and women will run away from the party, while Latino and African-American voters who may be unexcited by Hillary Clinton will be motivated to turn out and vote against a candidate whom they perceive to be a racist.

The question is what alternative is there to Trump? And even if he can be stopped from getting the majority of delegates he needs, the damage to the Republicans could be even worse than if he was the nominee. As the strategist Brabender noted “even non-Trump supporters will find it offensive” if there is “too much of an effort to prevent him from getting the nomination”. Congressman Massie used more blunt terms and described the scenario as “completely apocalyptic”.

Not all Republicans see doom and gloom if Trump is the nominee. Grover Norquist, the head of the influential conservative group Americans for Tax Reform, notes “the presidency is nice and important if you want to make progress” but it’s not essential. The veteran Republican operative sees a party still dominant in state legislatures and says “the people who focus only on presidential elections are getting distracted”.

Congressman Massie used more blunt terms and described the scenario as ‘completely apocalyptic’

“I am very happy with the cards that we have,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade this for the Presidency.” Although Norquist added: “I’d like to have both.”

Republicans can also take some comfort from the cyclical nature of politics. In 1974, Democrats won big majorities in both houses of Congress against a Republican party dejected after the Watergate scandal. Yet, just six years later, Ronald Reagan was elected president.

There is still the possibility that Trump could win in November. Massie, a former Rand Paul supporter, is convinced that Trump, along with either of the two candidates still running, could beat Hillary Clinton.

Further, in some districts, the New York real estate mogul’s presence on the ballot could boost other Republicans. Stewart Mills, the Republican nominee in a blue-collar corner of Minnesota near the Canadian border, didn’t see “any turmoil” among Republicans in his moderate district. Instead, he saw “a lot of energy” and felt confident in his message.

But not all Republicans are running in districts like Mills. Already, one incumbent Republican congressman, Carlos Curbelo, a conservative rising star from South Florida, has suggested he would vote for Hillary Clinton over Trump.

Wilson, the consultant, would also prefer President Clinton to Trump, though he would not vote for either. If the Republicans must lose, he sees the process as akin to “cutting off a gangrenous limb … it’s going to hurt, take a long time to recover” but, if you do not act, it will kill you.


20 thoughts on “Donald the Trump and the Destruction of The Republican Party (?)

  1. The run up to the November, 2016 Presidential Elections is creating anxieties around the world. Not since the Vietnam War has the US has been in a state of political uncertainty. The rhetoric has been full of badmouthing and garbage. American democracy is a crisis of sorts. Maybe Ambassador Malott can help us make some sense of what is happening in the “Land of the Free.”–Din Merican

  2. If Trump gets the Republican nomination, it will end up being a big defeat for the Republicans and a great victory for the Democrats. That’s because Trump has the highest negative ratings in American politics in 30 years. Almost 70% of American voters have a negative view of him.

    Yes, he has been winning most of the Republican primaries. But — it is rare for him to get more than 30-40% of the votes in each primary. In other words, in most cases, the majority of Republican voters did not vote for Trump. It is a “first past the post” system.

    Trump’s appeal is primarily to angry, less educated, white men. But there are not enough of them to form a majority in America today and elect Trump. (Maybe that’s why they’re angry!!)

    There are many Democrats who are secretly hoping that Trump will be the Republican nominee. They see it as a great chance to win the White House and the Senate, and maybe even the House of Representatives. It will be a great defeat for the Republicans, and it will take them years to recover.

    Anyhow, for my friends overseas — all I can say is, America has not gone crazy. The Republican Party has gone crazy — but not America.
    Thanks, Ambassador Malott. Trump is basically an arrogant and ignorant businessman. He has no clue about leading a superpower and the awesome responsibilities that go with that status. I hope Americans know that they should not give the keys to the nuclear button to him. Trump is the new Dr. StrangeLove. I remember watching that movie moons ago.

    The present election campaign is a disaster. The media, especially CNN, is giving this mad cap too much exposure. People like Political Mann, Christiane Amanpour, Richard Quest, Anderson Cooper, and their paid commentators and pundits are treating Trump as if the man is God’s Gift to America. As a friend of America, I am disappointed with what I see on television. It is gutter democratic politics never seen before. –Din Merican

  3. It is really frightenng noting how politics has developed in the United States, especially with Trump and Hillary in the lead and the emergence of the “racist” element in American politics. Hillary should tone down her suppprt for the Israelis.

  4. Sorry. Over the last two decades a substantial portion of the so-called middle class has de-graduated to the upper lower class. In the meantime, the ten year financial crisis cycle had resulted in public funds used to bailout the financial sector in the hope that a stable financial sector would result in a trickle down effect to help the small businessmen who in the end were left to their own wits to survive. Occupy Wall Street was skillfully pushed into the background. Now you have Trump who refuses to sit in the pockets of the Super PAC. Yes he may only get 30-40% of the votes in a general elections. But when you know that only about 50% of the eligible voters actually vote your guess is an good as mine.

  5. Listen briefly to this year presidential campaign has confirmed my suspicion of Mexicans and Chinese are working with Wall Street to forge lousy trade deals that rob American workers of their rightful jobs, and that Muslims want to blow everyone up. Thank God, we have incoherent bluster Donald Trump and warmonger Hillary Clinton to save America. But why am I so reluctant to cast my vote for either of them? Damn, Sanders, if only you have worked a little harder….

  6. Mr Lim (chungtatlim) :

    Hillary is rah-rah for Israel because of the large numbers of
    Jewish voters in New York state, especially in New York City.

    Not to say she isn’t strongly pro-Israel, of course.

    AIPAC is one of the most powerful lobbies in the USA.


    Right wing politics is on a rise in Europe also. German court has been put into the test if a democracy could rule out a right wing Nazis party by a court’s authority, if there were some who wanted it.

    As a Malaysian, it is surprising for myself to note that Trump kind of politics has not occured earlier.
    After all, I grew up with Malaysian kind of Ketuanan Islam Melayu.

    Odd as it may sound, I am genuinely praying that German court would not rule Nazis party.
    Given the same, I am praying what Ambassador Mallot sais would comep true with a major win by the democrats (though I am still hoping for an old jewish white as the next President 😉

    At the end, I am worried that those felt the Bern would vote for Jill Stein (which is a good thing) .. and resulting Clinton losing to Trump( which then becomes a very bad thing)


    It is strange I am fight against First Past the post, and Democratic party’s superdelegate, as I am hoping for a win for Sanders. Both systems mentioned are there to be the anchor to ensure the democratic systems stays sane. Yet, I felt both of those two systems have failed.

    Perhaps, I am an insane, and at odds with American sanity. Or perhaps, America has indeed gone insane?

    I am hanging onto a tight rope to survive as a Chinese overseas with a pushy China. In God’s hand.

  8. We may be surprised how unsavory the languages used between candidates attacking each others, America politics since its founding has always been full of distasteful verbal attacks. Even its founding fathers fighting for presidency calling each other wife whores and worse language. The most infamous attack was between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, but they both became close friends after they retired. Jefferson’s camp accused President Adams of having a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Adams’ men called Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”

    There is a line that America politics does not cross: political violent to their rivals. And therefore the First Amendment on freedom of expression is preserved regardless of the vile languages.

    Such a situation happens, for better or worse, mainly because of American culture is rooted in Anglo-Protestantism, where verbal attack is a reflection of attacker’s state of mind and conscience, not an insult to receiver’s god nor receiver’s purpose of existence.

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