After the 2004 Presidential election, many believed the Democrat Party to be in permanent decline. Jonah Goldberg gleefully contemplated that the GOP will have to divide into its social conservative and libertarian factions just to provide the American people with at least two realistic options on election day. In the real world, the Democrats came roaring back two years later to retake the House with a gain of 31 seats, and to tie up the Senate with 5 additional Senators. In 2008, they took the presidency, with further massive gains in Congress. Oh well, so much for the GOP’s Goldberg era.
The Democratic victory in November 2008 led to another round of triumphalism, and predictions for the demise of one of America’s great political parties – this time the Republican Party. Once again, the hegemony was short lived. The Tea Party came out of nowhere in 2009 to crush the Democrats in the 2010 midterms.
You can see what I am getting at. Given the recent past, it’s hard to believe that the new era of Republican domination will last any longer. In fact, I will go one step further. Normally I don’t make predictions, but I believe that one distinct possibility is that the 2018 midterms will be a replay of the 2010, except with the parties reversed.
Why do I think this is possible? For starters, losing gives the loser a number of advantages and the winner a number of disadvantages. Think of it as a negative feedback loop designed to stabilize the system. Their recent losses have given the Dems two big gifts. First, all the Clinton baggage is now gone. They no longer have to defend the e-mails, Benghazi, the Clinton Global initiative, etc. Second, they now have a clear enemy to focus on.
Contrary to popular belief, people to not come together by talking out their differences. That only leads to more acrimony. In the real world, what inspires people to work together towards a common goal is a common enemy. This election gave them that: Donald Trump. Every Democrat agrees that Trump is the enemy.
One big disadvantage for the winner is that he has to govern. And governing is hard. It’s not about promises any more. It’s about picking the least worst option and justifying to the voters all the negative consequences that flow from the decisions you have made. All the electoral reverses I cited were precipitated by mistakes made by the governing party. For 2006 and 2008, it was the Iraq War, the reappearance of chronic deficits, and the 2008 crash. For 2010, it was Obamacare, the Stimulus Package, and trillion dollar deficits.
In 2016, it was a race war that Obama started in 2011 to mobilize minorities against Mitt Romney. Trayvon Martin, Ferguson, Missouri, and Black Lives Matter were all designed to make blacks fear whites (and by extension, the white party – the GOP). They wood Latinos with wide-open, illegal immigration. As a result, to the white working class, it seemed that the Obama coalition thought of them as a bacillus to be eliminated. Unfortunately for Obama, the white working class reciprocated the hostility. It is instructive that while Donald Trump received fewer votes than Mitt Romney or John McCain, he did get a boost from rural rustbelt whites who flocked to Trump. They were telling Obama that there are now two sides to this race war. The most insightful pundit of this election, John Schindler, in this must-read column, calls it “America’s emerging nationalism crisis.”
So why do I think the GOP might get routed in the near future? First of all, the Republicans are in an very weak position for a winning party. This is mainly because of the extraordinary unfitness of Donald Trump. Speaking as somebody who thought Barack Obama was the most unfit man to ever be President, I think Donald Trump now holds that title. While he has all the inexperience of Obama, Trump has a series of grave weaknesses all his own. While Barack Obama is emotionally stable; Donald Trump is impulsive, vengeful, prone to angry outburts, and driven by petty grievances. Obama is literate; Trump has never read a book in his adult life. Obama is a family man; Trump cannot govern his lusts.
Even worse, in a shocking scandal completely ignored by the media, Donald Trump is in cahoots with a hostile foreign power that regards the United States as its “greatest strategic adversary”. For details, see my previous writings or those of the aforementioned John Schindler. This situation is unprecedented in American history. The closest analog is the 1948 Progressive candidate, Henry Wallace, who was also a witting agent of the Kremlin. I don’t think most Americans realize how dangerous the situation in Eastern Europe is, or how close we are – right now – to a conventional war in Europe.
For too many Americans, the only wars they know are the counterinsurgency campaigns of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result, they don’t understand that the butcher’s bill for a conventional war can be far, far higher. Against this background, the US – the country that has ensured peace in Europe for the past 70 years – elects a man personally tied to the region’s aggressor. If war comes to Europe, Trump – and the GOP - will own that catastrophe. All of it. And Americans will learn how expensive isolationism can be.
In addition, this election has laid bare a number of the GOP’s structural weaknesses. The first is the alternative media. If you asked me six months ago, I would have said that talk radio, Fox News, conservative Internet sites are conservatism’s greatest strengths. No more. This wretched election cycle has exposed about 80% of them to be “infotainment hacks”, to use Jay Cost’s memorable phrase. While some in the conservative media are insightful and honest news disseminators, too many are ignorant fools propagating nonsense to goose ratings.
Even worse, the Republican Party’s ideology is now broken. From Abraham Lincoln down to 2016, the Republican Party was the party of Anglo-Saxon conservatism, that is of Edmund Burke, free enterprise, classical liberalism, constitutionalism, the rule of law, and a respect for tradition. Now that Trump is its de facto head, the GOP is being governed by a central European, nationalistic, socialistic ideology. This doesn’t mean that every Republican, or even most Republicans, think this way, but it does mean that the GOP will be pulled in this direction by a leader who thinks like a South American caudillo. Will the GOP revert back to its roots when Trump is gone? Hard to say. I hope so. More to the point, this ideological schism makes it hard for the party to pick itself up after the next electoral loss.
Unfortunately, the GOP has nobody to blame but itself. Coming off of 8 years of Obama misrule, winning in 2016 was almost preordained. The Republican Party didn’t need to take the problematic direction it did. But it did, and it will pay the price.