The Republican civil war

AFTER THE GOP lost the November 1954 midterm elections, Dwight D. Eisenhower’s cabinet met for a postmortem. Eisenhower asked Richard Nixon, then vice president, to explain the politics behind the defeat. “There were just too many turkeys running on the ticket,” Nixon said. Then he pulled a mechanical drummer from his pocket and released it. According to Irwin F. Gellman in his illuminating new book The President and the Apprentice, Eisenhower stared with surprise as the toy marched across the table banging its drum. The lesson of the election, Nixon said, was that “We’ve got to keep beating the drum about our achievements.”

What will the GOP bang the drum about in 2016? Just as in the early 1950s, when internal party divisions over Senator Joseph McCarthy damaged the GOP at the polls, so leading figures on the right are once again feuding with each other, as the resignation of House Speaker John Boehner recently illustrated. But no issue is roiling the party more than the Donald Trump candidacy. Charles Krauthammer, who has repeatedly pronounced Trump’s demise, said on Fox News that “This is the strongest field of Republican candidates in fifteen years. You could pick a dozen of them at random and have the strongest cabinet America’s had in our lifetime and instead all of our time is spent discussing this rodeo clown.” But if the field is really so strong, then why is Trump able to run rings around it, with the much-ballyhooed Wisconsin governor Scott Walker retiring from the race—and begging other candidates to emulate him so that, as he put it, “the voters can focus on a limited number of candidates who can offer a positive, conservative alternative to the current front-runner”—before a single primary has even been held? Rather than imploding, Trump appears to dominate.