Friday, January 08, 2016

Republican Establishment Ready To Give Up Yet?


Thursday saw Herr Trumpf trolling tweeting out helpful suggestions to the opponents he wants to bury: Jeb should stop being ashamed he's a Bush, Cruz should start a court case about his eligibility. One of the NY Times' resident wing-nuts, Ross Douthat, started his column Thursday by flatly stating that Herr Trumpf "isn’t going to be the Republican nominee." People in his world think he's delusional. After all, the Republican Party establishment doesn't seem to have what Douthat refers to as "a coherent plan to cut into his support." He gets some solace from Joe Trippi's observation that "People get more pragmatic the closer they get to an actual vote." THESE people?

The hopes of establishment Republicans are seem to center around... magic thinking. Like, the prospect of a Trumpf nomination so horrible and so inconceivable that it can't happen and won't happen. Good luck with that line of thought. And Douthat acknowledges that as well.
Suppose that his support is more robust than Dean’s, suppose that the Trump constituency doesn’t give a fig about pragmatism. How does Trump lose then?

Here’s how. Yes, Trump leads all the national polls, and he keeps busting through what look like ceilings. But (unlike Dean) he doesn’t lead in Iowa, and his ceiling there looks very stable: He’s been hovering around 25 percent since September, and he’s never broken 30 percent.

He does lead in New Hampshire, but there, too, his poll numbers have been relatively flat since August, and he tops out around 30 percent. Likewise South Carolina, where his polling has hovered in the 30 percent to 35 percent range since he grabbed the spotlight last summer.

There is no credible scenario in which a consistent 30 percent of the vote will deliver the delegates required to be the Republican nominee. So for Trump to lose, he doesn’t actually have to collapse; he just has to fail to expand his support. And in the states where candidates are actually campaigning, voters are paying the most attention, and the polling screens for likely voters are tightening, he hasn’t expanded his support meaningfully since he first climbed into the lead.
Long story, short, what Douthat is suggesting is that no one will go into the convention with the 1,236 delegates to win-- ergo, the brokered convention we've been talking about for a month and, probably, the emergence of the "consensus" compromise candidate the establishment so dearly wants: a clean-shaven Paul Ryan.

Neither New York nor Time is related to the NY Times and each dealt with the same Trumpf problem yesterday as well. Ed Kilgore, writing for New York, worries that the GOP establishment has waited too long and probably can't stop Trumpf now. "As we all know now," he wrote, "Trump's candidacy did not self-destruct, even though he kept saying things previously considered disqualifying. Even a political scientist would admit that GOP voters are not waiting around anxiously for hints from elected officials in order to choose a nominee pleasing to party elites. And the supposed fail-safe mechanism-- tens of millions of dollars in anti-Trump ads-- has yet to appear... Turns out the kind of people who might respond to that message weren't supporting Trump in the first place, or were sufficiently excited by his nationalist themes and the horror he inspired among Democrats and RINOs that they were willing to overlook the odd heresy. If there's some silver bullet for bringing down Trump, it's not clear anyone has identified it." Kilgore never gets to the brokered convention scenario, but he will in a couple of weeks.

Time's David Von Drehle notes that Trumpf may well be the nominee and that establishment Republicans are starting to ask themselves could they stop worrying and, perhaps, learn to love the Donald? "'[P]erhaps he wouldn’t be so bad,' says veteran strategist and lobbyist Ed Rogers. True, Trump is a wild card, a flamethrower, a man with no known party loyalties and no coherent political principles, a thrice-married casino mogul and reality-TV star, a narcissist and even a demagogue." But, as Susan Collins (R-ME) mentioned a month or so ago, he has a lot of fans and maybe they'll vote for other Republicans too.

If Trumpf's core base of fans really are life's losers with no stake in society-- which I contend they overwhelmingly are-- there is no way for the GOP establishment to reach them. That third of the likely GOP primary voter bases is Trumpf's. Nothing they can do about it and Von Drehle goes off in a different and far more interesting direction anyway:
By coming to grips with Trump, Republicans might begin grasping the future of presidential politics, as the digital forces that have upended commerce and communications in recent years begin to shake the bedrock of civic life.

Disintermediation is a long word for a seemingly simple idea: dumping the middleman. It came into use a half-century ago to describe changes in the banking business. A generation later, the term described a key concept of the Internet age. In one field after another, the power of networked computing swept middlemen out of the picture. Ubiquitous retailers like RadioShack and Waldenbooks have either downsized or vanished as their customers go online to buy directly from manufacturers and warehousers. Netflix shutters the Blockbuster chain by mailing movies directly to viewers–then offers streaming, which cuts out the mailbox as well. Craigslist drains the advertising lifeblood from local newspapers, and local libraries reinvent themselves after the web puts the world in your pocket. It’s a familiar story, one of the megatrends of our era.

Donald Trump is history’s most disintermediated presidential front runner. He has sidestepped the traditional middlemen–party, press, pollsters and pooh-bahs–to sell his candidacy directly to voters, building on a relationship he has nurtured with the public from project to project across decades.

...Trump tends his virtual community with care. Among the candidates, his 5.6 million Twitter followers are matched only by his counterpart at the top of the Democratic polls, Hillary Clinton. Trump has 5.2 million Facebook likes—three times as many as Cruz and 17 times as many as Bush. His 828,000 Instagram followers is nearly a third more than Clinton’s 632,000. For many, if not all, of these individuals, their networked relationships with Trump feel closer and more genuine than the images of the candidate they see filtered through middlemen.

This can explain why Trump is unscathed by apparent gaffes and blunders that would kill an ordinary candidate. His followers feel that they already know him. When outraged middlemen wail in disgust on cable news programs and in op-ed columns, they only highlight their irrelevance to the Trumpiverse.

Indeed, the psychology of disintermediation adds another layer of protection to a figure like Trump. For members of an online network, the death of the middlemen is not some sad side effect of this tidal shift; it is a crusade. Early adopters of Netflix relished the fate of brick-and-mortar video stores, just as Trump voters rejoice in the idea of life without the “lamestream” media. Trump gets this: mocking abuse of his traveling press corps is a staple of his campaign speeches.

The fading power of middlemen is also visible in less garish manifestations than the Trump campaign. For example, voters used to judge candidates in part on their record of government service. Experience was a middleman, a sort of ticket puncher, that stood between the would-be President and the public. Not anymore. A stable of successful GOP governors-- Rick Perry of Texas, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Scott Walker of Wisconsin-- have dropped out, unable to understand the new calculus. As for the three current Senators on the trail-- Cruz, Florida’s Marco Rubio and Kentucky’s Rand Paul-- experience is the least of their selling points. All are first-term rookies known for defying party leaders, not for passing legislation. Rubio won office by challenging his party’s official choice for the seat. Cruz glories in his reputation as the least popular Senator in the cloakroom: he doesn’t need Washington’s validation. In fact, it’s the last thing he wants.

...These voters don’t want someone to feel their pain; they want someone to mirror their mood. Woe to the candidate who can’t growl on cue. Perhaps nothing has hurt the Bush campaign-- whose money and endorsements, lavished by middlemen, have fizzled on the launchpad-- more than Trump’s observation that the former Florida governor is “low energy.” Translation: he’s not ticked off. Voter anger in this sour season is less a data point than table stakes.

At a late-December rally in Council Bluffs, Trump treated his audience to one of his trademark free-form speeches, which are like nothing in the modern campaign repertoire. He sampled alter egos from talk-radio host to insult comic to the fictional Gordon Gekko. (“I’m greedy,” Trump bragged. “Now I’m going to be greedy for the United States.”) When he wrapped up, Teresa Raus of nearby Neola, Iowa, waited another 30 minutes for Trump’s autograph. Why? “I feel real confident that he can make America better. I believe him,” she explained. And yes, she’s angry. Other politicians “are liars,” Raus continued. “They’re all liars. I’m sick of politicians. If he’s not running, then I’m not voting.”

But if Trump voters are angry, that doesn’t mean they’re crazy. You meet more state representatives and business owners at his rallies than tinfoil-hat conspiracy buffs. In ways, they are a vanguard, catching sight of a new style of politics and deciding early to throw out the old rules. Their radical democracy helps account for Trump’s uncanny resilience: the less he honors the conventions of politics, the more his supporters like him. They aren’t buying what the political process is selling. They want to buy direct from the source. “It’s like this,” says Casady, the Army vet. “We’re going to go with this guy sink or swim, and we’re not going to change our views. It doesn’t matter. It’s time for us to do a totally insane thing, because we’ve lost it all. The times demand it, because nothing else is working.”

Some powerful forces inside the GOP will continue to fight Trump to the bitter end. As strong and durable as his support appears to be, the number of Americans who tell pollsters they would not vote for Trump is bigger. Trump’s intemperate remarks have alienated millions of Latino, Muslim and women voters. His rash pronouncements are the antithesis of the moderate approach that many citizens still value. His proposed religious test for foreigners who want to come to this country is as inconsistent with America’s self-image as linoleum floors in a Trump hotel.

The problem is that the party is weak at the national level, deeply divided into hostile camps, while Trump has the strength of a technological epoch at his back. Finding a way to live with Trump might not be a choice for the GOP; those might be the terms of surrender that he dictates at the national convention in Cleveland in July. And in private, even top party officials occasionally admit it.

Unless Cruz can continue to rise through the primaries-- aided by members of the congressional Freedom Caucus who share his maximal conservatism-- or a candidate like Rubio manages to push aside all mainstream rivals to consolidate the anti-Trump vote, the pot-stirring plutocrat may well steamroll through winter into spring with the lion’s share of the delegates. They won’t stop Trump because they can’t stop Trump.

In that case, party insiders may be forced to decide whether to pull every trick in the rule book to keep Trump from the nomination, with all the havoc that would ensue–including a very real chance that the party could split in two. Faced with that prospect, they may decide instead to swallow hard and follow Trump’s glowing blond nimbus into battle this fall. “The pundits don’t understand it,” Marco Rubio told an audience at a recent campaign stop in New Hampshire. “They don’t understand why in this election, why aren’t the things that worked in the past working again? Why is it that the people with the most money, or the most endorsements, or the one that all the experts thought would be in first place–why aren’t they winning?”

Donald Trump will be happy to tell them.
I'm still betting on a deadlocked, brokered convention and the emergence of the reincarnation of Ayn Rand in the form of a talentless Wisconsin sieve.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home