The rise of Donald Trump in the GOP and the grind-it-out near-victory of Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party demonstrate a failure and a partial success of the two parties.
Like her or not, Clinton has paid her dues in her party and the super-delegate mechanisms in the states have elevated her to certain selection as the Democratic presidential nominee. The party avoided the fringe ideology of Bernie Sanders. Their governance systems worked to promote unification and discourage divisiveness.
The Democrats proved sclerotic in not coming up with a fresh-faced candidate, but they have accomplished coherence behind Clinton.
That’s what parties are supposed to do: pull people together into a majority able to govern. The Democratic Party will nominate a known commodity. Clinton is smart, astute on policy, tough, experienced, at times vindictive, cozy with the big institution cronies (unions, Wall Street), indecisive (Benghazi) and opaque (secret e-mail system). She is a mixed bag, but there will be few surprises on how she will govern.
In contrast, the Republican Party, led by Wisconsinite Reince Prebius, blew its opportunity to coalesce around a similar mainstream candidate who could create a unifying majority. Scott Walker saw the danger. After being bullied by Trump, Walker pulled out of the 17-person race early and called for unity behind a candidate, preferably a governor with governing experience. Prebius didn’t listen.
Trump did passingly well in the early primaries (Wisconsin excepted), because the chorus of real Republican candidates splintered the voters, allowing Trump to succeed with pluralities. Only late in the game did Trump achieve majorities in the GOP primaries.
Prebius should have seen the pattern before it was too late.
Ted Cruz was another fringe candidate who did well because of vote splitting by the moderates.
Because the party did not serve as a center of gravity, it faces a defining moment in its long history. Will it follow its conservative principles or will it succumb to the temptation to follow a man without principles, but could prove to be a winner in this strange moment in history?
Because Trump has no clue about principles or thoughtful policy, the race forward becomes about the man. That’s how he likes it. He does not wake up in the morning thinking about what he can do for others. He looks in the mirror and thinks, “What can I do for “me.” His narcissist version of winning has the other party losing.
So, then, what about this man? He is an unapologetic welcher of debts, a draft dodger, a trust fund baby, a serial philanderer, the opposite of a unifier, a language-deprived showman, a fleshy blowhard, a master of the put-down insult, a loose cannon on public statements, the ultimate flip-flopper, and on and on. (See my web site johntorinus.com for 71 reasons to reject him as presidential material.)
Yet principled Republicans who want to win in November are starting to line up behind him. Wisconsin GOP Reps. Grothman and Sensenbrenner are already there. Rep. Ribble of Green Bay, who is not running for another term, has stuck to his principles and has said “no way.” Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is waffling.
If a majority of the GOP lines up behind Trump, Republicans will have lost their soul and right to say they constitute a principled party. They will have traded possible short-run political gains for long run irrelevance.
They will have a better chance to win elections in 2018 and 2020 if they stick to their true selves, if they take a possible loss for the presidency in 2016, if they save as many seats as they can by steering clear of the Trump train wreck. They need to work to stay alive to moderate a hate-based Trump agenda if he is elected. That could save their party for the long run.
Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin will be the litmus test for the party. He is in a tough spot, but the took the job. At a minimum he should be in no rush to endorse the frontrunner. Trump is capable of self-destructing between now and November. And events could arise that change political equations for voters.
A former Boy Scout, he must be asking himself if he wants his children to look up to a President Trump as the moral leader of the nation? At best, Trump is amoral.
Yes, a Clinton win would cost the GOP the U.S. Supreme Court majority. Many disagree, but that’s not enough, in my mind, to vote for Trump. If Clinton were wise, she could take away some of that excuse for voting for Trump by promising to appoint centrists to the open seats to heal the partisan divide in the country.
In possible absence of a viable, credible GOP, such moves to the center could mean the United States becomes a virtual one-party country for a spell.
All is not yet lost in terms of GOP integrity. Washington and Waukesha counties were among the most anti-Trump electorates. The GOP should look there for its moral compass.