Cake Walk

We’ve all kinda gotten use to looking at the success of people like Donald Trump and Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina in the Invisible Primary so far as a token of conservative “base” fury at GOP elites, and particularly the congressional party’s inability to keep its atavistic promises to said base. But conservative columnist Philip Klein raises another possibility today at the Washington Examiner (h/t Greg Sargent):

Looking ahead to the 2016 campaign, [conservatives] see Hillary Clinton’s numbers steadily tanking under an ethical cloud, as a growing number of Americans say they don’t trust her. Polls have shown Republicans ahead of Clinton even in Pennsylvania, a blue state that has eluded GOP nominees for decades. They’re confident that her weaknesses as a candidate have made the presidency ripe for the picking. Given this sense of optimism, they see no reason to settle.

Instead, as of this writing, half of Republican primary voters polled nationally are supporting candidates who have never held elective office. At the same time, candidates who fit the profile of a traditional Republican nominee (such as Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich) are at about 10 percent — combined. It’s true that it isn’t totally fair to pin this all on ideology rather than a more abstract rebellion against anything smacking of the Washington Establishment. Donald Trump, an avowed supporter of tax hikes and single-payer healthcare, won’t win any conservative purity tests, despite his hardline rhetoric on immigration. But still, when the dust settles, it’s difficult to see the Republican electorate deciding that to beat Clinton, they need an “electable moderate” in the mold of Bob Dole, John McCain or Mitt Romney.

Wow. Klein’s saying rank-and-file Republicans think they can nominate any damn fool they want against HRC because they really can’t lose.

In his comment on Klein’s piece Greg Sargent reminds us that this sort of GOP overconfidence was common in 2012, when it eventually spread from rank-and-file folk deluded by too many Dick Morris columns and 1980 analogies, all the way into the Romney campaign, where it stimulated some strategic errors. And as in 2012, a tendency to cherry-pick favorable polls (Rasmussen and Gallup then, Quinnipiac now) has fed the machine of self-deception.

Klein seems to think this is a bipartisan phenomenon, but I don’t personally know that many people on the Left who are immensely confident about 2016, even though they often think the GOP nomination contest is giving clowns a bad name. I’m sure many readers remember wild moments of liberal panic in 2008 and 2012. Maybe there’s a natural pessimism that comes with an aversion to self-righteousness.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.