I can’t help but take another opportunity to mock the Republican establishment and the mainstream press for believing that Donald Trump and Ben Carson were mere entertaining flashes in the pan until the “real” candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio could take over. It’s important to bring this up again because pundits should be held accountable to make not only informative and intelligent commentary but also accurate predictions. A political analyst who spends months predicting the fall of a candidate who shows not only resilience but a towering increase in polling over that time clearly fails to understand the subject s/he is talking about in such a profound way that their credibility and expertise should be permanently undermined.
Sadly, most of the political press has shown itself to be less than credible in describing and predicting the Republican Party and its choice of candidates for President. In spite all of the prophecies of his decline, Donald Trump has surged into an overwhelming lead in the latest polls for the Republican race. No matter how many gobsmacked stories about his remarkable ignorance of public policy are published, Ben Carson continues to hold onto second place per polling averages. And despite all the many predictions that the race would come down to outsider Ted Cruz against establishment candidate Marco Rubio, the latest poll shows Ted Cruz far outpacing Rubio, but still in a tie with Carson and very far behind Trump.
As for Marco Rubio, the leading establishment candidate? Well, after seeing Donald Trump threaten to create (wildly unconstitutional) national registries of Muslims in the United States, Rubio decided to up the ante by pushing for unconstitutional government spying measures in order to shut down any locations where muslims might gather, from mosques to diners. At a time when the anti-establishment GOP candidates are saying increasingly outlandish and terrifying things that, at the risk of fulfilling Godwin’s Law, can only be described as proto-fascist, the leading establishment candidate isn’t pushing back but rather doubling down on the crazy.
By doing so, Rubio is conceding what should by now already be obvious to even the D.C. pundit circruit: the GOP is Donald Trump’s party now. Whether Mr. Trump is the eventual nominee or not, Trumpism (or Carsonism, in its more mild-mannered but equally extremist form) is what GOP voters want. And lagging not far behind is the despised government shutdown huckster Ted Cruz. Collectively they represent 64% of the GOP vote, in addition to the smattering of support garnered by far less prominent anti-establishment candidates. That’s what the party is now. Meanwhile, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio combined can’t even manage to pull down a fifth of GOP voters between them.
Journalists need to acknowledge this reality. Trumpism is not a passing fad in an otherwise responsible GOP electorate. It’s all that’s left of a Republican Party that long since gave up any pretense at serious governance and instead became the unapologetic, Koch-owned plutocratic political arm of the resentment-fueled outrage machine created by talk radio, Fox News, and Breitbart.
It’s possible, of course, that Rubio or Bush could still win the nomination and I’ll be left eating crow. Political scientists love to point to the history of Republican primaries toying with outsider candidates but settling down with the boring guy who is next in line, and jaded analysts love to claim that nothing ever really changes in politics. Usually they would be right. But as Malcolm Gladwell would be the first to point out, sometimes paradigms do shift, and sometimes tipping points get reached. It seems to me that the GOP’s Southern Strategy/Tea Party monster has finally broken free of its cage and its master is powerless to control it anymore.
Good journalism shouldn’t continue to pretend that both partisan sides of American politics are equally extreme, and that the best public policy lies in middle-of-the-road compromise between the two. Good journalism should analyze and expose the fact that we now have a unilateral problem centered in the Republican Party, and try to figure out how to keep Americans adequately informed of that so that we can right the ship before it’s too late.