Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Wrecker

I was reading an article on Politico about political pundits' speculation on Donald Trump, and a couple of things stood out for me.

Paul Begala notes:

When it comes to Mr. Trump, I know this: he reflects the views of today’s Republican Party. Here’s proof: 64 percent of Republicans agree with the broader statement that, “President Obama is hiding important information about his background and early life.” And 34 percent of Republicans go full-on birther: saying of Republicans think it’s likely that president Obama is not a US citizen; that he was not born in America (Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. poll, Dec., 2014). This, of course, is an issue Mr. Trump has highlighted.

68 percent of Republicans say Mr. Trump is right on immigration. (Fox News poll, July 17, 2015). This was after he said those rather, umm, controversial things about Mexican immigrants. 22 percent of Republicans even agree with his hateful attack on John McCain—saying McCain was not a war hero (PPP Poll 7/22/15).
And Mary Matalin says this:
[Common Sense] America is, and has been for some time been, so over the incompetent, posturing national politicians as well as their irrelevant agenda issues and their counterproductive policies. They are aching for candidates with authenticity who will address their everyday concerns. AND do not presume a preference for their common sense world makes them redneck philistines.
Taken together, the message is clear - that Trump speaks to a significant portion of the traditional Republican base - those that Mr. Begala describes as "angry, white and male" and Ms. Matalin refers to as Common Sense America. And, assuming that these two are correct, that could present a problem for the GOP.

The biggest danger for the modern Republican party from its reputation of being the party of White male grievance (grievance that a lot of people feel is undeserved) comes from the chance that it energizes the people who fear that they would be the targets of that selfsame angry, white and male demographic. The wave that President Obama rode into the White House turned out for him to check what they felt was a Republican agenda that lead the nation into ruin. Despite calls for a more positive and optimistic political discourse, the fact of the matter remains that the best way to get people to the polls is to play on their fears of, and aversion to, losing what they already have. A Republican agenda that appears to have the rollback of gains by (liberal) women and minorities as its goal will drive those voters to the polls in droves to protect themselves. And while conservative Whites may be angry about their relative loss of status, people tend to be less motivated by potential gain (or, in this care, re-gain) than they are by potential loss. Therefore, the more the GOP seems to focus on punishing non-Republican voters by taking things from them, the more they're likely to prompt a new wave of Democratic votes as those people rush to defend themselves. (I also think that this will manifest itself in fewer votes for left-of-center third-party candidates, especially longshots such as, for example, Jill Stein. To vote for someone who is widely considered to have no realistic hope of winning, one has to either be a True Believer or uninvested/confident in the final outcome, and the latter are likely to be scarcer than normal as fears of Republican base grow.) And in this way, Donald Trump does potentially serious damage to the "Republican Brand," which has already been taking it on the chin. Democrats are already preaching their choir that Mr. Trump accurately represents the GOP, and as his inflammatory rhetoric continues to elevate him in the polls, more and more people are likely coming to that conclusion on their own.

In the end, it's likely a new win situation for the Republican Party. As they become more and more centered around a demographic that's losing ground to faster-growing groups, they'll enter a state, if they haven't already where they can't win with them, but can't win without them. The Republican Party will founder at a national level, as the state and local enclaves that it controls grow smaller and smaller. Aggressive gerrymandering may allow the GOP to hold on to the legislature past the point where their a minority party in a given state, but that won't save them forever, and they'll wind up banished to the political wilderness while they attempt to forge a new core demographic out of the very people their candidates (embraced or not) railed against.

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