Sorry, media: The GOP is not imploding
As much as we’d like to believe the hype from hand-wringing Beltway pundits and petrified Republican office-holders, the Republican Party is not on the verge of an imminent collapse just because of the possible presidential nomination of Donald Trump.
Yes, the insiders despise front-runner Trump and wish that he would disappear into a cloud of Cheetos-colored tanning spray. Many GOP officials worry about what will happen to the rest of Republican candidates if the real estate mogul becomes the nominee. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas worries that Trump will be an “albatross” around the necks of those lower on the ballot. The reaction from Illinois Rep. Peter Roskam about a Trump candidacy was “Heaven help us.” Super PACs have been launched to stop the Trump train. Past GOP luminaries (and we’re using that term loosely) such as 2012 nominee Mitt Romney have been trotted out to discredit the Donald. Republicans are even considering Texas Sen. Ted Cruz as a better alternative, no matter how much he’s disliked. Even with all of these efforts, there hasn’t been much payoff—Trump is still racking up votes and delegates.
There have been an endless stream of stories, columns, and commentaries bemoaning “the end of the Republican Party as we know it” all over every kind of media, all because of Trump’s candidacy. These are the same reporters, columnists, and commentators who usually like to declare that “Democrats are in disarray” at any sign of discord on the other side of the aisle.
If you Google “Republicans imploding” or something similar, you’ll get a wide range of stories with those words in the headlines, sometimes several per week. They started as soon as Trump declared his candidacy, continued on through the fall and became especially frequent as Trump started amassing greater numbers of delegates on his way to a likely nomination. Actually, you see that same kind of headline with the same words every time Republicans lose an election.
We’re still waiting for the implosion.
Record numbers of voters are turning out to vote in Republican primaries and caucuses, no matter how poorly those caucuses are run and no matter how racist we might consider Trump’s GOP voters. Whether we like it or not, the would-be narcissist-in-chief is attracting new voters to those contests, and those overall voting numbers haven’t been matched by the Blue team. (At least the numbers of voters in each contest in Michigan were more even, but with an edge to the Republicans.) A rough estimate gives the totals so far as 18.7 million votes for Republicans and 13.1 million votes for Democrats. According to a compilation by the Pew Research Center, Republican turnout so far has been 17.3 percent of eligible voters, while Democratic turnout is lower at 11.7 percent.
The GOP still holds the House and the Senate (we hope not past December), and 31 of the nation’s 50 governors are Republicans. When it comes to state legislatures, 68 out of 98 partisan state legislative bodies are held by Republicans. In 24 states, the GOP holds both the governorship and a majority in the state legislature; there are only seven such partisan state strongholds on the Democratic side. Republicans made gains in the 2014 mid-term elections of top of what they did in the famous shellacking of 2010. Those office-holders and their party infrastructures aren’t going to disappear just because Trump might be at the top of the ticket.
Even if by some miracle Trump does not earn the requisite 1,237 delegates needed to secure the GOP nomination—not a very likely scenario now that he’s won big in Michigan and Mississippi and the polls look positive (for him, if not for the rest of humanity) in the next round of primaries—the fantasy of a brokered or contested convention exists only in the minds of terrified GOP elites and journalists tenting their fingers like C. Montgomery Burns on The Simpsons. If those frantically searching for a GOP establishment savior were to deny Trump the nomination, the Trumpeters who stood in line for hours to vote for Trump would be so furious that they might stay home in November, providing fewer votes for Republican candidates in down-ballot races.
I don’t think it will come to that. I think we’ll hear full-throated cheers for Trump at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland when it starts on July 18. Trump’s former rivals have all pledged to support the eventual nominee, despite their current disparaging invective against him. That’s true even if, in the quiet anonymity of the voting booth, at least some of those cheering later cast their presidential votes in the “D” column.
Trump may be changing his tune about GOP insiders, too. According to a story on Huffington Post, at Trump’s victory speech after his March 8 wins (when he wasn’t acting like a QVC pitchman), Trump talked about unifying the party.
He called upon his supporters to rally behind Republican members of Congress. “It’s very, very important as a Republican that our senators and our congressmen get re-elected, that we put a good group of people together, that we keep the people that are there,” Trump said. “If we are going to be effective, it’s very, very important.”
It sounded an awful lot like an overture to the GOP establishment.
The media really painted themselves into a corner this election cycle. Nearly everyone wrote off Trump immediately, saying it was only a matter of time before he faded, especially after insulting (fill in blank here). Then instead of doing actual reporting on Trump and the other candidates, they stuck mainly to 1) horse-race coverage and 2) incendiary-statement coverage, in which case Trump was their man, since he provided the best click-bait. In response to reader complaints about the lack of substance, New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan evaluated two weeks worth of political stories from the Times and found that more than 75 percent focused on the horse race.
And even among the issue-oriented articles we found in the two-week period, many treated the issues only glancingly, and very few compared the stances of various candidates in a way that might be most helpful to readers.
Another piece of the puzzle is that the horse-race stories seemed to attract more readership. Looking just at one measure, The Times’s “most popular” articles of the last two weeks, we found five of 10 in each week to be about who seemed to be up, and who down. Not a single issues article made either week’s list.
But is that a chicken-or-egg problem? Which comes first — The Times’s relative inattention to issues, or the readers’ smaller appetite?
Is there any doubt why Trump is ahead when even the Gray Lady—the nation’s famed newspaper of record—doesn’t bother with much content reporting anymore?
FiveThirtyEight offers a historical perspective on what happens When Political Parties Splinter. Most divisions have occurred along geographic lines, such as divisions between Southern states and the rest of the country, or when a rogue personality like former President Theodore Roosevelt ran on his own in the Progressive or Bull Moose Party in 1912 (the Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, beat Roosevelt and incumbent President William Howard Taft in a landslide). Those divisions eventually fade, one way or another, with the breakout areas either returning to the fold or aligning with the other party, as Southern states did with Republicans.
As impotent as the Republican National Committee has seemed at times during this campaign, the GOP has healthy party organizations in most states. That infrastructure could help the party weather the Trump storm. …
If the GOP does split, it may be for only one or two election cycles, with Trump playing the role of Roosevelt. It’s also possible, however, that the rise of Trumpism within the Republican Party will alienate the Plains states and interior West. How those states vote during the GOP primary could provide some clues (few have voted so far, but Trump has underperformed in Kansas and Oklahoma). Or maybe if Trump wins the nomination, the #NeverTrumps will sleep on the couch for a couple of months but all will be forgiven by the time the general election rolls around.
Here’s what Republicans refuse to admit, even as they claim to be shocked, shocked, by Trump bragging about his genitalia on national television. They’ve been saying the same things as Trump for years, only at a lower volume.
No, they haven’t been talking about penis size, although that is a perfect metaphor for GOP candidates as they try to prove their manhood by “talking tough” about immigration, terrorism, foreign trade, or any other issue. It says a lot that a popular GOP button selling the day of the Iowa caucuses read “Trump 2016: Finally someone with balls.”
For decades, Republicans have been only too eager to paint people of color and non-Christians as “others”; to gin up fear about Muslims, Hispanics, African Americans, and foreigners in general; to blame those same “others” when jobs disappeared or when actual income trickled down; in short, to blow the dog whistle of racial politics. If spreading this kind of message for decades didn’t make the GOP implode, why will it suddenly cause a blow-up now? Just because it’s out in the open and offends David Brooks?
On the other hand, since nothing about this election has been predictable so far, who knows? Maybe the Republicans will throw out all of the current choices and nominate some “safe” choice like House Speaker Paul Ryan, if he replaces Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as the media darling. Rubio’s chances seem to be drying up more quickly than his throat during his ill-fated GOP response to Obama’s State of the Union address in 2013.
I think it’s safer to predict that we see Donald Trump as the GOP standard-bearer on the debate stage in the fall against the Democrat. Imagine his surprise when a professional like Gwen Ifill nails him to the wall when he won’t answer a question and there are no cheering crowds to back him up.
But no matter what happens, do you really think disgruntled Republican voters will stay home? I don’t. Which means Team Blue better come through for the Democratic nominee.
Originally posted on Daily Kos on March 13, 2016.