The Incredible Weakness of the National Republican Party

One of the more interesting things about the GOP debate wasn’t even what happened at the debate, but the meta-narrative of how it happened. It’s also interesting how weak and helpless the Republican Party appeared as events unfolded.

First, the GOP was supposed to have its strongest field in decades. This should, in theory, have allowed for real contentions over major issues and a seesaw effect as governors and senators probed each other’s weaknesses and tested new ideas with the GOP primary electorate. But that hasn’t happened. Instead each of the major candidates has shrunk under the bright lights rather than grown. The field that appeared so strong on paper has turned out to look incredibly weak and stale.

As the major candidates were unable to seize control, an increasing number of also-rans became tempted to join the fray, producing an overcrowded clown car effect. During all of this the national Republican Party was entirely powerless to stop them and clear the field.

Then, of course, came Donald Trump. The Republican Party has never looked weaker than it has in dealing with the enormous black eye that is Donald Trump. Reince Priebus has looked variously baffled, snarky, pouty and kowtowing addressing the Trump problem. At every turn Donald Trump continues to thumb his nose at the establishment Republican Party, insulting its leaders and openly mocking any efforts it might make to reach out to women and minorities in order to solve its demographic problems.

And then comes Fox News. Fox News is often described as the media arm of the GOP. But over the years it has seemed more like the GOP is the political arm of Fox News. It was Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch who decided which candidates would appear on stage. It was Fox News’ Megyn Kelly who determined the lines of attack each candidate would face, and which ones would face an easier road than others. It was Fox News that controlled the post-debate spin. In all of this, the actual Republican Party seems to be an utter bystander at its own event.

Of course, there’s the spectacle the Koch Brothers and Shelden Adelson have made of their willingness to buy candidates outright and set up their own shadow field and campaign arms separate from the GOP.

And now comes the RedState forum. Erick Erickson has taken it upon himself to disinvite Donald Trump from the RedState forum. At first glance this might seem to be a boon to the GOP: national leaders desperately want to see the Trump “bubble” burst, and want to take the spotlight away from him in any way possible. But it’s still remarkable that in an election year when national Democratic leaders and the Clinton campaign made a decision to keep frontrunner Hillary Clinton away from the liberal Netroots Nation convention, it is the RedState forum itself that is disinviting the current Republican frontrunner. Once again, the national GOP seems to be utterly helpless.

The Republican Party is a total mess, and it has never looked weaker.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.