Thursday, December 10, 2015
It’s either Trump or the Republican Party. Not both.but I will vote for this guy anyway
December 10, 2015
(Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Andrew Harnik/AP, Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images, AP)
There’s no hard and fast rule in politics to help you know when you’ve crossed over from mere extremism into some dark borderland of reckless ignorance. Generally speaking, though, when you find yourself defending the wisdom of the Japanese-American internment, you probably left that boundary behind a few miles back.
That’s the intellectual wasteland Donald Trump stumbled into this week when he issued what should hereafter be known as the Marvin Gaye Manifesto — his proposal that all Muslims be banned from entering the country until we can figure out “what’s going on.” This immediately drew unusual condemnation from the new Republican speaker of the House, the Senate majority leader and the party’s national chairman, along with thelocal Republican chairs in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
The interesting question is what happens from here, because the way I see it, the cold war between Trump and the Republican governing establishment, which everyone hoped throughout the summer and fall might just resolve itself, has now become a zero-sum contest. And Republicans find themselves faced with an existential threat that has no parallel for either party in my lifetime.
Either Trump or the Republican Party as we’ve known it can come out of this election without having been politically destroyed — but almost certainly not both.
Before we climb into the time machine and survey the scenarios here, let me say that I still tend to think Trump won’t be the Republican nominee. I realize the national and state polls say otherwise (CNN’s latest survey shows him with a commanding lead in New Hampshire), and I acknowledge that one of the dangers in columnizing — at least when you have a healthy disdain for all the blather on cable TV and social media, as I do — is that you can sometimes dismiss conventional wisdom merely because it’s conventional and not because it’s wrong.
Having said that, though, most of the prophets who keep telling us that Trump is unstoppable are those who take a pretty grim view of Republican politics generally, and who are easily persuaded that the majority of conservative voters are unthinking and bigoted. Their predictions mostly reflect their own distrust of the electorate.
In fact, at this point in the race, as Stuart Stevens, the strategist behind Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, put it when we talked this week: “You, I and Donald Trump have all gotten the same amount of votes for president.”
Trump’s support in the polls — which has generally hovered around 25 or 30 percent of the primary vote — may well be inelastic, meaning that nothing he says or does can shake it. But the window he once had in which to build on that support substantially has probably closed.
In other words, it’s not so much that Trump’s War on Islam will suddenly cause him to plummet in polls or lose any significant ground; it’s that his ratings-driven rhetoric may well have trapped him exactly where he is, with nowhere to go but down.
This means Trump’s success is entirely contingent on the rest of the field remainingchaotic and fractured, which seems unlikely to me. Already, polls show Ted Cruz rising fast in Iowa, and Marco Rubio and Chris Christie may be getting some separation in New Hampshire.