"Nightmare" scenario of non-establishment GOP candidate looms large

With the Thanksgiving break and the holiday season almost upon us (and the attendant lack of movement in election news which usually attends this period) I’m noticing some serious panic beginning to set in among fans of politics as usual. A pair of articles popped up this week which seem to encapsulate the fatigue inside the Republican establishment and the likely misplaced glee on the part of Democrats. The formerly hypothetical question of could one of these crazy people really win the nomination is beginning to solidify into, okay… so what do we do now?


Michael Brendan Dougherty at The Week is describing what he calls the very real nightmare scenario of the final GOP primary battle coming down to three people… Trump, Carson or Ted Cruz.

The GOP’s best and brightest are getting stomped by a carnival barker whose vocabulary barely extends beyond “terrific” and “terrible,” and an exceptional neurosurgeon who is completely incapable of being president.

His scenario starts with the Republican also-rans falling out of the race, with Bush and Rubio basically taking each other out. (The latter getting a big assist from conservatives unhappy with his immigration plans and his own lack of electoral battlefield experience.) At that point, the only “real politician” left standing is Ted Cruz, and Michale sees that as a disaster waiting to happen.

This is bad for party mandarins. Cruz is loathed by his colleagues in the Senate. His persona electrifies his supporters and his detractors. To the establishment, Cruz looks like Barry Goldwater 2.0 — an uncontrollable right-winger, destined to be blown out.

So you see the near future playing out in the stress nightmares of the Republican establishment. Rubio eliminates Bush on age, polish, and the value of a last name. Cruz eliminates Rubio based on the Florida senator’s support of amnesty. And suddenly, the deepest field in recent history has collapsed into Trump, Carson, Cruz, and some also-rans.


Meanwhile, over at the Washington Post, Chris Cillizza is predicting the same freeze in the polls from next week until the first week of January, less than thirty days from the Iowa caucuses. But following the attacks in Paris, he doesn’t see this as bad news at all… at least for Hillary.

Any Republican who tells you that Trump and/or Carson are a fad who will fade before Iowa is engaging in the most wishful of thinking. It’s a near-certainty at this point that the top tier going into Iowa will look almost exactly like it does today — Carson and Trump at the top, with Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) inching upward.

The state of the Democratic race is far less in flux — and, therefore, is causing much less agita for the party establishment.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, after months of listless campaigning, almost certainly secured the Democratic nomination with her strong showing in October — a month bookended by a standout performance in the first presidential debate and her marathon testimony in front of the House committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

This cycle has thrown so many other “rules” of American politics into the compost bin that I’m not going to assume anything at this point. For all we know there will be a huge implosion among some campaigns or a golden moment for others which distract voters from the pressing matters of carving turkeys and drinking eggnog. If that doesn’t happen, however, we’re going to go into the first leg of the voting with pretty much what we have today. But is that such a bad thing?


At this point I’d like to revisit something I wrote more than two years ago, in August of 2013. I called it The Great Experiment, and in that essay I noted that two establishment candidates in a row had been beaten, despite the fact that I was one of the guys usually pushing for just such an establishment candidate to make sure we could “carry the middle.” So much for that idea, huh? Instead, I suggested that we might heal the rift in the party if we just got over ourselves in 2016 and ran a three-legs-of-the-stool, fire breathing, nail spitting conservative. Now, admittedly, I didn’t see Trump or Carson coming. In their place I suggested Sarah Palin and (as a dark horse) Peter King. The only one of the three I got right was Ted Cruz. But looking at today’s field, we might not be that ideologically far afield, at least in terms of getting away from the establishment, with the Cruz, Trump, Carson triumvirate.

So now to the question I asked 27 months ago.

Then, in November of 2016, we should know one of two things. If the uber-conservative candidate racks up a 300ish plus electoral vote victory similar to Obama’s last outing, the critics will be vindicated and can authoritatively tell the RINOs to STFU and STFD. Just be happy with the win, accept the new paradigm and everyone can move on with their lives.

But what if they wind up taking a worse beating than Romney at the hands of Hillary? (Or whoever the Democrats nominate, assuming there is somebody out there besides the Candidate of Destiny Part Two.) Then the opposite would be true, the RINOs can happily keep up their fight to win over the middle and the debate will be settled once and for all.

But, of course, there is a third and possibly worse potential outcome.

What if the candidate in question lost the popular vote by 4 or 5 percent, essentially running up the same score in the same states that Mitt did? What sort of message does that send? The reason it might be the worst possible outcome is that we’d be left with the prospect of a nation which has simply drifted too far away from the entire idea of conservatism and the GOP to deliver a win at the national level for any candidate. All of these “establishment v True Conservative” arguments would have been for nothing, since it never really mattered anyway.


There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then. Two of the three names are different, but the politics as usual candidates seem to be on the verge of being kicked out of the halls of power. The opponent is just who we thought, but she’s taken a lot of damage in the meantime. In some ways, you couldn’t ask for a better environment to run this experiment in. If Hillary was ever going to be beatable, she’s done yeoman’s work in making our job easier over the past year. The conservative outsiders (at least in the person of Cruz) couldn’t be much further outside.

What say you? Will this match-settle the debate once and for all? Or if we still manage to lose with one of these three against a dinged up Hillary will we be having the same discussion four years from now?

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David Strom 6:00 PM | February 27, 2024