And so it has begun. The conventional wisdom was that following Donald Trump’s defeat November 9 along with the likely loss of the Senate and possibly the House, the Republican Party would thrash and moan as they tried and likely failed to pick up the pieces and become an effective political party again. If you read me regularly you will have read this post where I tried to figure out whether this election would cause the Republican Party to just buckle or fall apart altogether.
What I did not expect when I wrote that post was that this would happen well before the actual election. Yes, the Republican Party is already disintegrating and of course you can thank Donald J. Trump for this. He spent most of the day lashing out at establishment Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan and Arizona Senator John McCain. Ryan won’t campaign with Trump anymore (while not rescinding his endorsement of him) but authorized any Republican member of the House to tack away from Trump where it makes sense. McCain is just one of the more prominent Republicans in Congress to say he won’t be voting for Trump. So perhaps it’s not surprising that the easily wounded and vainglorious Trump would lash out against these Republicans today. In his usual way-over-the-top tweets, he said these Republicans were actually worse than “Crooked Hillary”.
Ryan’s actions are entirely logical, at least for someone who is trying to maintain the Republican majority in the House. Ryan may be an ardent Republican but he knows how to add up the political math: Clinton will be the president elect, Democrats are likely to retake the Senate and if Clinton wins by seven percent or more the odds are Democrats will retake the House too. If Republicans lose the House, it means he won’t be speaker and given that the Tea Party will form the bulk of the diminished Republican minority he’ll be lucky to end up as minority leader. Being out of power really sucks so it makes complete sense for Republicans to cut their losses if it’s not too late.
Trump though does not operate logically. His feelings are hurt and he is in denial about his impending loss. People in denial go through predictable phases and he’s in the “lash out at anyone who dares to speak the truth” phase, which ironically will make not only his loss worse but aggravate it for all Republicans up for election.
It’s not too hard to predict what will happen the day after Election Day too. Trump is unlikely to concede but he is likely to call the election fraudulent. There may be civil unrest from Trump supporters, as I also blogged about. I do expect on Election Day that Trump “observers” will try to prevent voting or harass voters, at least in precincts with heavily minority communities. While Trump is unlikely to accept defeat, he can’t change the outcome. But what he can do instead is lash out at the Republican Party for not sufficiently falling in behind him. He will make establishment Republicans take the blame for his loss. Why is this not only likely but also almost certain? It’s because Trump never takes the blame for anything.
Clearly Trump commands a lot of loyal followers. They shout themselves hoarse at his rallies when they are not beating up on journalists and Trump protestors. He is the poster child for non-college educated whites. Since he lives for attention he’ll have every incentive in the world to become their champion. And since the Republican Party has failed him, he is likely to “fix” the Republican Party by taking his followers with him. In short, I think he’s likely to go full Bull Moose on Republicans after the election.
If so, this won’t be the first time the Republican Party has nearly cracked up. In 1912 former president Teddy Roosevelt (a Republican) joined the then relatively nascent Progressive Party. His endorsed Republican successor (and running mate) William Howard Taft proved insufficiently progressive after winning the presidency. The Progressive Party became the Bull Moose Party and Teddy became its nominee for president. The result 104 years ago was that Democrat Woodrow Wilson won instead, with Teddy a distant second and Republican Taft getting just eight electoral votes. Teddy got even with Taft, but lost the election in the process.
If this scenario plays out again after this election, Democrats will get yet another gift. It’s not hard to see Trump running again in 2020 but under his own party label, leaving whatever traditional Republicans are left to nominate their own candidate. If this happens Republicans will be in the trenches fighting other former Republicans instead of opposing Democrats, making Democrats hands on favorites in most races to win. The 2020 election might result in a Congress that would look familiar to Tip O’Neill when he was speaker in the 1980s; he commanded a huge majority of House Democrats. It also bodes well for Democrats in 2020 senate races too. This would be good for them because they will be defending more seats than Republicans that year.
The likely outcome of all this probably won’t fatally fracture the Republican Party. New parties face daunting odds and Republicans will still have an infrastructure in place for nominating, supporting and winning races, which is what the Bull Moose Party eventually figured out when they slowly came back to the Republican Party. This infrastructure is not easily duplicated. Given Trump’s poor management skills he would be uniquely ill suited to try to create a winning party under his own brand. While Republican chaos reigns, and particularly if Hillary Clinton and a Democratic Congress can institute real change, Democrats have the opportunity to profit handsomely from the chaos. Given the Democratic Party’s history, their odds are slim, but Democrats now lean far more to the left than they did eight years ago. It’s not out of the question.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed. The next few years could be glorious ones for Democrats, reset the rules of Washington and actually bring about the end to gridlock that Americans want. If so, it will be the Republican Party’s implosion that will make it possible.
Thanks in advance, Donald.