As much as I remain confident that there is absolutely no “conventional wisdom” in this year’s elections there seems to be one thing which is clear. Whether they are cheering for it or bemoaning it, pundits and opinion journalists across the spectrum apparently agree that the end of the GOP as we know it is at hand. Granted, it’s not everybody, but you can barely open up a newspaper web page or turn on cable news without seeing one of these stories. Today’s entry comes to us from the author of the Right Turn blog at the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin. But rather than wringing her hands over the decline of the institution, Rubin is a glass is half full kind of gal and urges us to consider the possible benefits of the Grand Old Party turning into the Gone Old Party. After calling out the RNC, the Republican Jewish Coalition and Hugh Hewitt (among others) for failing to sufficiently condemn Trump’s continued insistence on breathing oxygen better saved for the rest of us, she concludes:
These are not bad people, nor do they support Trump. But they fail to recognize that there are only two choices in 2016: Someone other than Trump gets the nomination, or there is no unified GOP (at the least for the 2016 presidential race, and perhaps permanently). Ironically, it is sometimes more difficult to recognize a tectonic shift is underway than it is to recognize small shifts. The former prompts denial and a desire to cling to what is known, even if it what is known is on the verge of extinction.
Rubin first justifies this by saying that, if nominated, Trump will lose to Hillary Clinton. (Personally I think that remains a known unknown.) She then moves on to the following:
As we have discussed, if Trump is the nominee — and we are still not there yet, as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) rises to the occasion — all sorts of interesting possibilities unfold. A third presidential candidate is quite likely, but more important, a new party. Let’s face it: There is a lot deserving of abandonment in the GOP right now. Nativism has thoroughly infected its agenda, turning otherwise well-rounded conservatives into small-minded xenophobes. The inability to recognize lost causes (reversing gay marriage) and the refusal to address real ones (e.g. poverty) have paralyzed too many Republicans. The search for ideological purity and support for fringe candidates as well as a nihilistic approach to government personified in the shutdown have gripped vast swaths of the party. The opportunity now may present itself to leave all of this behind, to form a 21st-century party reflective of today’s United States and with a coherent vision of governance.
The author goes on to lay out her vision for a new party, built from scratch, but somehow rejecting a large portion of the people currently registered with the GOP. She also offers a sliver of hope for salvaging what we have now, but only if Trump is defeated and replaced with Marco Rubio.
First, it’s worth keeping in mind that this is coming from Jennifer Rubin. If you’ve followed the history of her WaPo column, you know that Jennifer tends to pick an establishment candidate and stick with them until the bitter end. In 2012 she was all in for Romney early on, attacking every other Republican in the field far more often than she went after Obama’s policies. This time around she was initially on the Jeb! train like a trooper. We saw that with entries penned right up until he folded his tent, such as: Don’t count out Jeb Bush, It’s now or never for Jeb Bush, and Betting on Substance, where she touts Bush’s education plan. Now that Jeb! has left the field, though, she seems to have jumped ship to the Rubio campaign as a second choice. Fair enough. Everyone has to pick their own horse in this derby.
The premise of this entire party breakup story seems a bit flawed to me, though, and essentially backward as portrayed by Rubin. Stop to think about this for a moment, particularly in the context of recent history. In Jennifer’s scenario, we wind up nominating someone “against the will of the party” or “against the will of the people” or insufficiently conservative or however it’s now being defined. Trump goes on to win the nomination and then loses the general election. How, precisely, is that different from the last two cycles? The hard core conservatives were dragged kicking and screaming to the polls in 2012 because Mitt was the author of Romneycare and not sufficiently conservative and every other thing under the sun. John McCain certainly had his fair share of critics in conservative circles four years before that. (But to be fair, I’m not sure if Reagan’s own ghost could have beaten Obama in 2008 given the mood of the nation.)
After each of those beatings we licked our wounds, picked ourselves up and moved on to the next midterm fight, trying to win as many state level offices as possible. If Hillary gets elected there will be yet another post mortem, Trump will go back to his Manhattan luxury digs and we’ll all look back on it as either a major embarrassment or some sort of lesson learned. If Trump still somehow loses the nomination to Cruz or Rubio, we’re back at the status quo in terms of the health of the party (such as it is) and nobody is jumping ship. The only real question here is what happens if Trump wins the whole thing? Will the party crack up then? I’m not trying to cast aspersions on the values and integrity of everyone in the #NeverTrump camp, but will they actually walk away from the table just when we’re finally holding all the cards again or will they stick around and try to make sure the GOP majorities in Congress keep the new President in check and hand him bills to sign which conservatives give the thumbs up to? Color me skeptical about everyone bailing out under those conditions.
Maybe I’m a bit of a Pollyanna, but the impending death of the Republican Party may be somewhat exaggerated. The only exception to that, which I’ve pointed out before, is if Trump gets a large plurality of the delegates but has the nomination taken away in a brokered convention. Yes, Virginia… that will probably shatter the party for a generation.