A Landslide Was Foreseeable

Three years before Trump, the Republican party was already falling apart.

Currently, Nate Silver is giving Donald Trump less than an eleven percent chance of winning the November election and becoming the next president of the United States. Digging down a little deeper, we see that Silver says that Clinton has a better chance of winning Montana (29%) and Utah (24%) than Trump has of winning Florida and Ohio (both at 20%) or Virginia, Pennsylvania, or Colorado (all at 10%).

This election, as it currently stands, is not like the elections we had in 2000, 2004, 2008 or 2012. The “red” portions of the map are being erased, as Silver’s map currently has Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina shaded blue. Clinton is listed as having a better than 40% shot of winning both Missouri (41%) and South Carolina (43%), and Mississippi (20%) is now at least somewhat in question. If I told you two years ago that Clinton would be twice as likely in mid-August 2016 to win Mississippi as the Republican nominee was to win Virginia, how would you have responded?

It’s something I was already predicting nearly three and a half years ago in March 2013, as I examined early polling that showed Clinton running strong in Texas and winning in Georgia.

To begin with, I was looking at results of the Republicans’ effort to polarize the white vote (particularly in Texas) and how that was going to work against a (likely) white Democratic presidential candidate in 2016. As I noted in my last post, I’ve been writing about this for a long time.

These results seem to confirm that the Republicans were successful in polarizing the electorate along racial lines, at least in Texas. If we think of their strategy as an effort to counter a growing minority population by increasing their share of the white vote, they did exactly that in the Lone Star State, and the result was that Texas stayed precisely 19 points more conservative than the country as a whole.

[Nate] Cohn predicted that this strategy had reached it’s full fruition and that no more white votes could be squeezed out of the electorate. But as long as the Republicans retain this high level of white support in Texas, the state will remain reliably Republican for quite some time. Cohn also acknowledged that the next Democratic candidate, who is more likely than not going to be white, will probably fare better with white Texans than Obama did the last time around, but the Republicans have plenty of cushion before they need to worry.

But I identified some signs that indicated to me at the time that the Republicans should worry.

What Cohn didn’t really contemplate was that the Republican Party would splinter and fall apart. What do white Texans think about the new Republican National Committee report that recommends that the party agree to a comprehensive immigration reform bill with a path to citizenship and that advocates acceptance of gay marriage?

…I’ve argued this before, but I think racial resistance to Obama’s presidency is masking the true weakness of the Republican Party. And things aren’t going to remain static. There will be consequences to the Republicans’ lack of unity on immigration and gay rights. With the RNC taking an official position on those issues that is anathema to, respectively, the racist and evangelical bases of the party, we can expect further erosion of the Republicans’ hold on the white vote. Some of those voters will be receptive to a Clinton candidacy, but the real problem will be lack of enthusiasm resulting in less volunteerism, fewer donations, and more third-party voting.

What I missed in this early-2013 piece was the possibility that the Republican Establishment would not just alienate their base voters by selling them out on gay rights and immigration, but actually have their leadership (Boehner and Cantor) and top presidential candidates (Jeb, Walker, etc.) defenestrated in favor of the Freedom Caucus and a racist demagogue.

The effect was largely the same though. The headline of the column I’m referencing here was “This is What Collapse Looks Like”. What I saw was an imminent coming apart of the Republican coalition, and it portended for me a different kind of presidential election in 2016.

I don’t think it really mattered who the Democrats or the Republicans nominated, the only way the results would have been different is if one of the candidates made a very concerted effort to reshape the electorate by going after completely different segments of the electorate than is traditionally done by the two respective political parties. Trump is trying to do that in his own way, but he’s really doing more harm than good and providing an opening for Clinton to realign a lot of traditional Republicans into the blue column. Jeb would have kept some of this squishy middle but suffered mass disenchantment and apathy on his right in the bargain.

At times, I’ve used the analogy of “winning the argument.” In the last several presidential elections, no side has really done that decisively the way that Reagan did in 1980 and 1984 or Nixon did in 1972 or LBJ did in 1964. That led a lot of commentators to conclude that things are different today and we’re stuck in a world where even the losing candidate is guaranteed somewhere between 40% and 45% of the vote.

I never believed that.

I always believed we were in that system until one side won the argument again. In 1984, Ronald Reagan convinced the liberals of Massachusetts and Vermont and Rhode Island and Hawaii that he was the better choice than Walter Mondale. I knew that the reverse was still possible and that a Democrat could win in places like Georgia and Arizona. All it would take is one side to lose its strength so that it could no longer push back with equal force.

Trump is uniquely bad, spending no money on advertising, for example. But the crack-up of the Republican Party began in earnest with the reelection of President Obama when they couldn’t pass immigration reform and they couldn’t operate the federal government. Fox News has fallen apart and no longer serves as an organ of the Republican nominee. The National Review, Red State, and other previously reliable wurlitzer-grinders stand in strong opposition to the Republican nominee, but also to the preferences of the party’s base.

These schisms were in evidence years ago, which is why I found it possible to predict that the GOP wouldn’t be able to hold up their side of the wall in 2016 and things would tilt against them in dramatic fashion.

People will blame Trump for this, but it was all there before Trump was seen as anything more than a barking birther tree monkey.

This is not Trump’s fault. He’s making it worse, but it’s not his making.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.