Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Critical Question

As of the writing of this post, prediction markets have Trump's chances of winning the Republican nomination for President at 70%, a decline of about 10% in just the past few days. Most likely the softening of Trump's numbers have to do with a series of news cycles exposing his long history of brazen, outrageous sexism and linking it to Trump's miserable unfavorables among women. Astonishing... it's almost as if women pay attention to how candidates talk about gender.

Just how bad has it gotten this week for Trump? His campaign manager was arrested on charges of battery after he forcibly grabbed a female reporter at a press conference. He engaged in a despicable sleaze-fest on social media with Ted Cruz about the comparative attractiveness of their wives and the mental health of Heidi Cruz. Then just yesterday Trump suggested that "there has to be some form of punishment" for women who receive illegal abortions, until, that is, withering criticism of this deeply unpopular opinion forced Trump to walk back the statement a few hours later.

The cumulative effect of these stories and others may be playing out both nationally and in crucial primary states. If Trump's numbers can't hold up in the 17 remaining primaries, the chances of his securing 1,237 delegates and the nomination outright become increasingly slender. That means the contested convention scenario every pundit has been feverishly contemplating might in fact come to pass. And the most likely scenario is one in which Trump enters the convention with a clear plurality of delegates, a fiercely loyal core of disaffected white male working class Republican support, and declining national momentum, as the long odds of a Trump win in November are broadcast with greater and greater clarity while desperate #nevertrump-ers cast their votes for Cruz or Kasich. That seems like a recipe for chaos.

It's impossible to predict what will happen in Cleveland. I'd like to imagine a reenactment of Spinal Tap's legendary (non)performance in that same city, in which a packed hall of screaming Republican delegates are calling for a vote while the three hopefuls wander lost beneath the stage, Trump dressed in David St. Hubbin's white satin skintight jumpsuit, Cruz wearing Nigel Tufnel's leopard print tank top and licking his guitar neck, and Kasich in the role of Derek Smalls shouting "Hello, Cleveland?" to nobody in particular. (Actually, it is possible to read that film clip as analogous to the entire GOP primary season.)

Whatever happens before, during, or after the convention, the chances of a fractured party seem higher than ever. The predictable disintegration of Reince Priebus's poorly conceived loyalty pledge for GOP candidates augurs a bitter outcome in Cleveland no matter what the final delegate math might be. And last week Ross Douthat at The New York Times pronounced this doom:
There is now no possibility that the Republican Party will survive its rendezvous with Donald Trump unbroken.
If Douthat is right—and I think he is—the critical question for the 2016 election is not who wins the White House, but in the longer term how will the Republican Party repair itself? Conservative politicians, operatives, intellectuals, pundits, and indeed delegates ought to proceed with that question foremost in mind. That isn't easy for a political establishment trained to single-mindedly pursue electoral victories.

Take, for instance, the idea of running a conservative candidate against Trump should he win the nomination. Sean Trende at RealClear Politics argues that the cost of a third-party candidate would outweigh the benefits, an argument he cannot help but ground in win-loss scenarios in future election cycles:
Moreover, if Trump is to lose, the lesson (assuming there is any) about his popularity would be best learned if he loses straight up. Abandoning the party and running a rear guard action would enable Trump supporters – assuming he loses – to operate under a “stabbed in the back” theory in 2020 and going forward. And they’d be right!
Sure, this strategy might make 2020 and 2024 more difficult, but Trende's "assuming he loses" interjection reveals the fallacy here. If Trump is the only GOP candidate he might win, and that would endanger the republic. The reason for conservatives to run someone against Trump is to ensure that he loses, because the moral imperative of keeping a pugnacious, ignorant, hyper-confident, alpha-male, fascist out of the Oval Office (and more importantly out of the White House Situation Room) not only outweighs the significance of any particular presidential election, but provides the best opportunity of establishing a new dialogue among conservative voters about the kind of party they want to have in the 21st century.

UPDATE: Friday at 12:30pm, Predictwise has Trump down to 61% and Cruz up to 22%.

No comments:

Post a Comment