The late Samuel Francis called Republicans “the Stupid Party” because they tended to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. Lately, in the emerging Age of Trump, I have seen that moniker cropping up again. Political analysts report signs of the GOP’s maddening wont – so despised by both Mr. Francis and yours truly – to throw an election that should be a sure thing for their candidate.
Donald Trump – brash billionaire, flamboyant TV personality, and uncontrollable loose cannon – has stormed through the Republican primaries and seized the GOP presidential nomination by saying things that many people long to hear from a strong leader. But his message and his style make GOP elites wet their pants. Common folk – frustrated and impoverished by eight long years of runaway government – are rallying to Mr. Trump because he not only sounds good, but he looks like he might actually turn the seemingly irresistible tide of political correctness, uncontrolled illegal immigration, and ruinous financial policies that threaten the nation’s financial health, security and wellbeing.
Mr. Trump should have the upper hand in this election because his opponent is a former First Lady – and entirely forgettable ex-Secretary of State – who has racked up such a calamitous record of financial chicanery, tone-deaf liberalism and near-traitorous mishandling of state secrets that majorities of citizens, in poll after poll, say they wouldn’t trust her any farther than they could throw her. Leaders of her own party are panicked because she could actually be indicted, on the very eve of the election, for violating national security laws. Millions of Americans, well-experienced in handling classified material, know she is guilty as sin.
All that Mrs. Clinton really has going for her is a faithful core of Yellow-dog Democrats who would vote for Diablo himself, if he promised to keep the Federal Gravy Train rolling. Media sycophants try to pooh-pooh the FBI’s investigation of her security practices, and pump her awesome “presidential temperament.” But it won’t fly. She reminds millions of men of their first wife or their school librarian; millennial voters have no memory of the “mythical” Clinton years; and young women who long ago smashed the glass ceiling can’t see what she offers except more gender/race-pandering, political correctness, and higher taxes.
Democratic Party leaders, now practically living on Valium, hope that Mr. Obama will order the FBI to ease off their investigation of Mrs. Clinton long enough for her to win the election. They also pray (figuratively speaking, at least) that Mr. Trump will finally blow up his candidacy by saying something so offensive that his own party will turn against him. So far, though, every explosive thing he has said has only enhanced his street-cred.
Democrats’ hole-card, of course, is the GOP’s aforementioned ability to mess up a sure thing. Indeed, that hope seems entirely justified, as GOP leaders have lately been denouncing Mr. Trump for spouting views on immigration that they call unacceptably bigoted, if not outright racist. These denunciations have erupted because of Mr. Trump’s response to the horrible Orlando nightclub-shooting in which a lone Muslim gunman killed 49 people and wounded at least 53 others. It was the worst mass-shooting in American history.
Mr. Trump repeated his earlier demand that any new Muslim immigrants be blocked from entering the USA until solid procedures are established for investigating their backgrounds and political inclinations. President Obama quickly pounced, declaring that this is “not who we are” as a nation, and insisting (again) that Mr. Trump is temperamentally unfit for the presidency. (After all, some things can’t be said aloud, even if they’re true.)
Closely following the Stupid Party playbook, several GOP figures have validated Mr. Obama’s partisan criticism by declaring that they can’t vote for Mr. Trump. House Speaker Paul Ryan says members of his caucus should “vote their consciences” – essentially releasing them from any duty to support their party’s candidate. This raises the question: Do they really want Mrs. Clinton in the Oval Office? Maybe not. But how will opposing their party’s candidate prevent it? That question is never asked, but it’s time for some of those worthies to answer it.
One development of the 2016 campaign has been clarification of a key difference between the two political parties. With rare exceptions, Democrats tend to unify behind their candidate. If they don’t, they lose, as in 1968 and 1980 when significant party disunity allowed Republican wins.
In ’68, Democrats were split between an “establishment” faction committed to continuing the Vietnam War, a growing anti-war faction led by Senator Robert Kennedy, and a segregation faction led by Alabama Governor George Wallace. Senator Kennedy was killed just after winning the California primary. Stoned anti-war lefties then rioted at the Dems’ convention in Chicago, and Chicago cops disgusted the country by bloodying and tear-gassing the demonstrators. Anointed candidate Senator Hubert Humphrey promised to continue the war. But renegade George Wallace carried five southern states, allowing Richard Nixon to slip in with 43% of the vote. (Bill Clinton reprised the split-party as his winning model in ‘92, when Ross Perot ruined President Bush by drawing off 19% of the vote.)
By 1980, the Iranian hostage crisis and the Russian invasion of Afghanistan had made President Carter so unpopular – even within his own party – that he was strongly opposed for the nomination by Senator Edward Kennedy. Mr. Carter defeated the senator, but he lost the Reagan Democrats, who helped Mr. Reagan win 51% of the popular vote and 489 electoral votes. President Reagan vindicated voters’ trust by sparking a roaring economic recovery and rebuilding the military.
This year, Senator Bernie Sanders’ spirited campaign and lavish promises drew hordes of young people. Most probably had no idea that his wonderful, “new” socialism has never worked because people won’t strive and achieve if they gain nothing from the effort. The Senator might have pulled off a historic upset, but he went easy on Mrs. Clinton – probably knowing that he could split the party if he took off the gloves. He says he’ll “fight on,” but that’s just a sop to the hoi polloi. After Mrs. Clinton is crowned, he’ll campaign for her like a good Democrat.
Despite all her evident flaws – including revelations that the Clinton Foundation garnered gazillions in “donations” from her shakedowns of foreign leaders while she ran State – no Democrat office-holder at any level has disavowed Mrs. Clinton or declared a refusal to vote for her. Modern Democrats don’t do that. They (almost) always stick together to get their nominee elected. Alone in the political universe, they understand that the prize is zilch if they lose.
Will Rogers used to say, “I don’t belong to any organized political party – I’m a Democrat.” If he were alive today, he would say that about Republicans. Instead of unifying behind their voters’ choice, they are scattering like green militia at the enemy’s first volley. Many experienced GOP pols could easily deflect Mr. Trump’s brasher statements and find common ground where they can stand with him. ‘No, we don’t discriminate against anyone by his religion or national origin’ (they might say), ‘but we must recognize that adherents of a violent faction of Islam mean us real harm. Until we learn to spot them, we need to protect our people by exercising prudence over whom we let into the country.’
That kind of statement, made by people like Paul Ryan, Senator Mitch McConnell, or any of Mr. Trump’s primary opponents, would unify Republicans and deflect adversarial media’s slings and arrows. But none has the wit (or courage) say it. Instead, Republicans trash their own candidate as a “racist” whom they simply can’t support – on “principle.” How will this help their party gain the presidency?
Short answer: It won’t. (A fifth-grader could see this.) I know GOP chieftains aren’t stupid. So what is really going on? I see two possible answers:
The conspiratorial answer to “what’s going on?” is that some Republicans might not want Mr. Trump to win because he’s an outsider who might dismantle the cozy GOP apparatus they have built. With Mrs. Clinton in charge, they’ll enjoy four more fat years of fruitful fund-raising on promises to fight her ruinous policies and put “someone we can be proud of” in the Oval Office. I don’t want to believe that any Republicans are so venal that they would purposely throw the election. But the conspiracy theorist in me (life-member of the Grassy Knoll Society) keeps whispering: “follow the money.”
The other answer touches on the GOP’s treasured reputation as the Nice Party. Republicans have long been the polite guys of country clubs, brass-buttoned blazers, two-toned shoes, and measured discourse. No fighting words, dirty political maneuvers, or “punish your enemies and reward your friends” stuff. It was always “I yield to the honorable member from New York…” etc.
Even when they lost – which was often – Republicans were unfailingly polite. Their voters (and the Democrats) expected it. Recriminations and vows to fight to the bloody last – taboo. Above all, Republicans guarded against any whiff of racism. Every GOP office-holder strove to make voters forget their sordid history as the party of Slavery, Secession, Suppression and Segregation. (Wait! You say those were actually the Democrats? Well, no need to mention it. We’re much too nice…)
The serious problem Mr. Trump poses to Establishment Republicans is that he is wrecking – perhaps irreparably – the GOP’s Nice Party rep. His huge success with radical invective and outrageous political-incorrectness has shocked the GOP establishment. No sacred cow is safe from the heavy fire he lays down. He keeps both the media and political opponents off balance with comments that would sink most candidates. Voters love it. He is the “real deal.” He’s happenin’. Crowds flock to hear him. But GOP elites are aghast.
Democrats aren’t too happy, either. Having initially dismissed The Donald as a buffoon unworthy of Mrs. C’s steel, they grew alarmed as he won primary after primary, systematically vanquishing one establishment candidate after another while attracting more and more followers – including independents and even some centrist Democrats upset by no jobs and their party’s leftward drift.
But most of all, Democrats are upset because Mr. Trump’s rise signals the end of the Nice Party, which they have had so much fun drubbing over the past 80 years. Combative baseball manager Leo (The Lip) Durocher famously said, “Nice guys finish last.” He didn’t coin the phrase, but he believed in it, and he certainly lived it out on the diamond. Democrats believe in it, too. To their horror, they see that Donald Trump also gets it, and they fear he’ll convince his party that “politics ain’t beanbag,” and nice guys have a nasty habit of losing elections they should win.
This election is a plum ripe for Republican-picking. The “nice” establishment-types could still throw it, but I hope they’ll come to their senses. My prayer is that wise men (and women) will see that the country simply can’t stand a third Obama-term.
The Liberty Bell is inscribed with the famous verse, “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” (Leviticus 25:10) That proclamation won’t have a prayer with an ethically-challenged grandma driving us over a cliff.