Monday, July 11, 2016

The 2016 Stakes

As we all know the circus comes to Cleveland in just one week and Donald Trump will officially be named, despite wishful thinking to the contrary, Republican nominee for President. It is hard to comment on the state of the Republican Party at this moment. The shock has probably worn off of most GOP leaders, but some mixture of anger, denial, bemusement, despair, and delusion remains. The unsettling truth for them is that the most likely outcome of the election, regardless of who wins, is that the Republican Party will be dramatically changed.

Plenty of pundits have made this point, but it's actually worth considerable rumination. This is a Party, after all, historically populated with folks who usually find change disagreeable by nature if not downright threatening. Is it any wonder the Party is freaking out? Consider the official national platform they are debating and voting on at this very moment. It's barking mad, a series of throwback social positions indicative of a party that has no idea what it actually stands for anymore.

For all that, Trump still has a chance of winning that is not insignificant. Reader ER asked me the other day whether I was scared about the election. My answer was not too scared, but scared enough. The election fundamentals and consistent polling point to a Clinton victory, but it's not close to a lock. (Incidentally ER, a fiercely intelligent observer, is quite scared.) Sam Wang explains the current math and, as he sees it, it's all about the undecideds:
If Trump does not bring enough Republican voters home, there could be unexpected wins for Clinton. If all states within 5% went Democratic, the electoral total would be Clinton 381 EV, Trump 157 EV. This is the downside risk for Republicans. On the flip side, Clinton’s biggest major weakness is Pennsylvania, where she leads by a median of only 1%. If all states within 5% went Republican, the electoral total would be Trump 318 EV, Clinton 220 EV. So it is not crazy to imagine a Trump victory…if he could somehow become a candidate that did not repel members of his own party.
People express fear all the time when it comes to elections—"If George W. Bush wins, I'm moving to Canada," and all that. But it's always been a testament to the often maligned two-party system and the rigorous-if-flawed primary process that two candidates emerge both capable of stewarding the republic (or, to be more cynical, candidates just wise enough to keep from doing critical damage to the nation and the world). Even Bush 43, as reckless and dishonest as his administration was about Iraq after September 11, did not represent an existential threat. In retrospect, he was too good-hearted for that. (The most common counter-factual when it comes to that decade is to imagine Gore as President, but it is equally interesting to imagine Bush without Cheney, Rumsfeld, or Rice whispering Neo-Conservative poison to him, but instead counseled by Powell and like-minded realists.) Or Romney... even as the modern progressive movement would have been frustrated on numerous fronts, do we doubt the republic would have been in relatively safe hands had he won in 2012?

With Trump in 2016, the fear is real. There are two great threats to humanity that, to be safely answered, require steady, strong leadership from the American executive. The first is nuclear war; the second is climate change. Since 1945, American presidents have avoided nuclear war with patience, measured diplomacy, and good counsel. Trump is impetuous, puerile, and megalomaniacal, three qualities least desirable in someone with the power to launch nuclear weapons. He's also a climate change denier. This doesn't distinguish him from many in the elite Republican establishment, but his election would end US involvement in the Paris climate accord and any chance of implementing Obama's Clean Power Plan. Paris was a monumental achievement and Democratic presidential leadership is required for at least the next four years to push the US along the path to meeting its obligations.

Were another candidate the 2016 GOP nominee—a mythical Mitt Romney who believed in fighting climate change or the 2008 McCain, who (we often forget) ran on a cap-and-trade program—there would actually be a decent liberal argument for not worrying about the election. Much would be at stake, not least the Supreme Court, so of course liberals would want a Democrat to win. But in this scenario, a Republican victory that did not endanger Paris or the CPP, would give Democrats an opportunity over four years to take back state legislatures, rebuild their bench of national candidates, and fight to take back the White House and Congress in 2020. They would avoid the burden of holding the White House four terms consecutively and would be better positioned to win the year a new census will be taken that could determine control of the House of Representatives for the next decade.

But such a GOP candidate does not exist. Instead we must deal with the likes of Trump.

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