OK gang, hop into my trusty wayback machine with me, and let’s return briefly to the dark day of November 9th, 2016. I want to do a quick comparison of the GOP’s feelings on the day after the election, and compare it to the reality of today for the GOP.
On November 9th, 2016, the GOP felt like the owners of a $20 win ticket on Seabiscuit, their 100-1 long shot had come in. They were so giddy that they couldn’t change their Depends quickly enough. Mitch McConnell was publicly gloating about picking up 6-8 seats in the 2018 midterms, cementing his majority, and Paul Ryan was crowing about the world finally seeing the power and might of a “unified conservative government.” The GOP had their dream President, a political 4 year old, easily controlled by flattery, and willing to crayola scribble anything they put on his desk to sign. To quote the old beer commercial, “It just don’t get much better than this.”
Fast forward to today. Paul Ryan is slinking away from his Speakership, and political life while his kids will still talk to him, his vaunted “unified conservative government” a true chimera. Mitch McConnell is overjoyed at the Canadian tariff on bourbon, since he needs a swimming pool full of the stuff to dive into on his weekends at home, while he considers the dread possibility of becoming the minority leader again. The GOP does indeed have a political 4 year old on their hands, but this one keeps throwing his blocks at the babysitter.
The Trump Presidency is a slow motion train wreck. Trump is a political apostate, he is not interested in ideology or governing, he’s interested in image and applause lines. He’s having the time of his life, jetting around in Air Force 1 to rallies 3 years before his next campaign. But while only one thing has gone right for the GOP, to many of them, it is the only thing that matters. Not even 18 months into his term, Trump is going to try to ram through his second Supreme Court justice, altering the slant of that court for the next 20-30 years. That is the mother lode for the GOP, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the culmination of 40 years of concerted, almost obsessive political effort, to turn back the clock on liberal progress, and the very ideas of fairness and equity.
Make o mistake about it, Donald Trump is destroying the Republican party. The difference between authoritarian political parties and democratic political parties is that in democratic political parties, while one man may define the party for a certain period of time, that man is not the party, the party endures long after any one man is gone. Barack Obama is gone, but the Democratic party carries on, his legacy a proud part of it’s history. If the GOP takes a 2010 style shellacking in the 2018 midterms, at what point does the “traditional,” institutional Republican party decide to jettison it’s mutant lab experiment to save itself? Especially if that experiment has already achieved the ultimate goal it was put there for? Let’s take a look at a few simple facts.
The Trump “agenda” is dead
That heading is a kind of misnomer, since there was never any real Trump agenda to start with, only applause lines for the gullible, glibly spouted by the ultimate snake oil salesman. But the GOP as a party is now wrapping their agenda around them like a tattered feather voa on an aging burlesque dancer. They failed multiple times to actually repeal the Affordable Care Act. And every Democratic candidate that campaigns on fixing, not repealing it, rubs their GOP opponent;s nose in their failure. Their mighty conservative budget is so liberal that Trump screamed that he would veto a similar successor. Their vaunted tax law is so heavily tilted to their rich donor overlords that they can’t even run on it in November. And while swamp critters like Trump and Pruitt may talk a good fight, the fact is that many of their imperious edicts are being stalled in the courts.
We’re not quite 18 months into his term, and already Trump is a lame duck President. Trump has not learned a lesson Obama has just found out, but which the GOP leadership already knows, that Executive Orders only get you so far, because they can be overturned by the next President. And Trump is already a lame duck President because
The GOP can’t govern
To my mind, the real test of a political party is not how it governs when it’s in power, it’s how it rallies plans, and sticks together when it’s in the political wilderness of the minority. And in this aspect, the Republican party screwed the pooch. There is no excuse for a party that has a 40+ seat advantage in the House, at onetime a 4 seat advantage in the Senate, and the Oval Office for not being able to govern, but there can be a reason. The Republican party turned on itself.
Every party in the minority basically becomes a party of “no,” but the party tends to back up that “no” with their own alternate ideas and plans, trying to woo future support. After the devastating loss to Obama in 2008, the billionaire Koch brothers, disgruntled with the direction the party was taking, astroturfed a myriad of small protest groups into the Tea Party, and got a bloc of about 40 of them elected to the House in 2010. The problem with the Tea Party is that they were bent to serve the interests of the Koch brothers, and not necessarily the interests of the Republican party. And while it’s easy to say “no” to a common foe, it bogs down when you have to find a way to say “yes” to each other, especially when neither side will give an ideological inch. This problem was only magnified with the injection of the pseudo fascist Trump wing of the party in 2016, a wing bent only on the destruction of the system itself. And this becomes critical because
It’s only going to get worse
Every day you see the increasing divide in the GOP between the establishment faction, the Tea Party faction, and the Trombies. The Democrats themselves went through a similar dilemma in 2016, but so far with a different outcome. Bernie Sanders brought a radical new approach to the ideology of the party in 2016, and he infused millions of new voters into the process. But the two competing concepts were fundamentally incompatible, and the party fractured. But it appears that the Democratic party is more pragmatic than the GOP. Nothing unites disparate interests like a common foe, and in Donald Trump, we have the granddaddy of all common foes. And if the Bernie side and the Hillary side can’t find compromise, then the goddamned candidates will! Candidates are finding the blend of issues and positions that will work in their particular district, and to the credit of the party, so far they’re giving them the freedom to do it their way. As Al Davis used to say, “Just win, baby.”
The Democrats even had their own hybrid iteration of the Tea Party spring up in the ashes of 2016, but not a destructive one. because, unlike the Tea Party, Indivisible has intelligently resisted centralization. While individual chapters may coordinate phone campaigns, or rallies with nearby chapters, they are waging their wars locally, with their own tactics, on their own turf, and they are kicking ass.
Things are not going to improve for the GOP. Trump is who he is, that is not going to change. He is going to continue to use inflammatory rhetoric to please his base, at the expense of expanding the party base, and his policies are only going to get worse as he devolves. With the new images of immigrant children rejecting their parents at reunification, because they feel that their own parents abandoned them, this policy is only going to swing public opinion further from trump, and by association the GOP. At what point is enough enough for the GOP? And this narrative is toxic to the GOP because most important of all
The Trump “base” is NOT the GOP “base”
Trump loves to brag endlessly about the millions of “new” voters he brought to the Republican party in his colossal victory in 2016. In the spirit of my patron saint, Jon Stewart, I call bullshit. Trump didn’t infuse new blood into the party, he activated dormant, disgruntled GOP voters to turn out to vote. Bernie Sanders brought in millions of voters who up until then had been apathetic with the entire political system.
But, ever since the rise of the “Moral Majority,” the underlying core base of the Republican party has always been the Evangelical voter. The GOP has promoted itself as the party of “moral and family values,” and the evangelicals have rallied around that. Without the evangelical base, the GOP is nothing more than a bunch of greedy, selfish, old white guys.
And the evangelicals have a problem with Donald Trump. A big problem. Trump is the anti Christ of any evangelical. He lives and preaches infidelity, greed and excess, because he lives those values. But Trump promised them the one thing that the evangelicals have coveted as much as Trump himself covets women and money. He promised them a conservative, God fearing supreme Court. Watching the evangelicals twist themselves into human pretzels to excuse Trump’s churlish behavior has been a chiropractor’s wet dream.
BUT! What happens with the evangelical base once Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in as the next Supreme Court justice, and the evangelical bucket list is empty? Donald Trump is not their Messiah, he was the vehicle that would transport them to the promised land. And once they pull into the parking lot of the promised land, why would they want to spend one more minute in the rattletrap ’57 Studebaker that got them there? They’ll wash their hands of him the way a horseman scrapes his boots when he comes into the house from the stables.
The cracks are already starting to appear. Iowa GOP Senator Jodi Ernst is already criticizing Trump, albeit gently, over his trade tariffs, and other GOP Senators in vulnerable states are taking umbrage with it as well. 48 GOP Senators voted yesterday to reaffirm our support for NATO, including Mitch McConnell. The reception that GOP lawmakers will get from their constituents on the August recess is not going to improve their mood. And Mitch McConnell is reported to have tried to influence Trump away from Kavanaugh because of some of his rather far right speeches and writings.
And don’t take Kavanaugh’s confirmation for granted just quite yet. Kavanaugh is a one shot or Trump and McConnell, if he fails, there is no way another nominee can get through the confirmation process before November. And it might not be Roe v Wade that is the deciding factor. Democrats are already trumpeting his views on the power of the Presidency, and his somewhat belated belief, after prosecuting Clinton, that President’s should be exempt from any form of oversight while in office. GOP Senators in committee already voted in a bipartisan manner to send legislation to the floor of the Senate, increasing protections for Robert Mueller. Trump’s infatuation with Putin is still uncomfortable for Republicans in the congress, leading to their advancing new sanctions on Russia by a veto proof majority.At least some of the 20+ GOP Senators may want to pause long enough to see how bad the GOP bloodbath in the House is in November Especially since only 38% of the country disapprove of Mueller’s investigation, and 67% like Roe v Wade exactly where it is.
The Brett Kavanaugh nomination is the watershed moment for Trump, and neither outcome is really palatable. If Kavanaugh is confirmed, Santa’s goodie bag is empty. There is noting more that Trump can give them, and with a conservative Supreme Court, the evangelicals can happily jettison Trump. And if they do, you’re going to see his GOP support drop like a stone in the polls. If the evangelicals desert Trump, the GOP Senate can safely follow, evangelicals outnumber Trumpaholics, and GOP Senators up for reelection may as well go down finally fighting for their honor and dignity. And if Kavanaugh fails, that alone may energize the Democrats for the Senate races in November. AZ and NV are already in serious play, and TN is weakened with Blackburn running to replace Corker in the polls. If Cavanaugh fails, Democrats like Manchin, Donnelly, Heitkamp and McCaskill could find themselves on the side of the angels, especially with a depressed GOP turnout.
So, the fat lady isn’t even spraying her throat on Kavanaugh yet, but either way it turns out, if the evangelicals dump Trump, she may well be starting her do-re-mi’s for Trump. As Rachel Maddow likes to say, “Stick a pin in this,” at some point down the road, we may look back on the Brett Kavanaugh nomination as the moment the tide finally turned against Donald Trump.