Trump Going Full Breitbart is Bad News for the GOP

Earlier today, Nancy wrote:

Trump’s hiring of [Stephen] Bannon and [Kellyanne] Conway isn’t just a signal to Republicans – it sends a message to all of us who have been watching this one closely. We’re not going to see anything new from Donald Trump. What we’ve been seeing is what we’ll continue to get.

I can understand why she wrote that. A lot of people are writing the same thing. The idea is that Trump could have pivoted into a more scripted, disciplined and reality-based candidate, but these hirings clearly demonstrate that he is not going to do any of those things. And, I think that’s correct.

But, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re not going to see anything new. What comes next probably is not going to be just more of the same. Before I explain, let me step back for a moment. The New York Times compiled a list during the primaries, which they still periodically update, of all the people who have been insulted by Trump on Twitter. It’s an astonishing list, especially when you consider that it leaves out all the insults that Trump has made with his mouth instead of his fingertips. But, if you peruse the list for any amount of time you’ll soon realize that Trump has kind of pivoted since he won the nomination. He’s not blasting away at Republicans anymore, at least not as regularly or with the same heat. Trump has clearly failed to consolidate the Republican Party behind him, but he’s also (mostly) made an effort not to exacerbate the rifts he caused when he was vying for the nomination. It’s been painful to watch him do a dance with Mitch McConnell and (especially) Paul Ryan, but they have made an uneasy peace. Since winning the nomination, Trump has mainly focused on blasting Hillary Clinton and the media, and the Republicans he’s attacked have been those who don’t support him.

The hiring of Breitbart’s Stephen Bannon is a sign that this period of half-hearted détente is coming to an end. Trump will most likely run just as hard (or nearly so) against the Republican Establishment as he runs against Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.

I agree with this unnamed source:

…Capitol Hill Republicans already disheartened by Trump’s scorched-earth campaign were apoplectic over the Wednesday morning shake-up.

“Breitbart has no credibility outside of the most extreme conservative wing of our party. Frankly, the same could be said of Kellyanne Conway,” one House member and close Ryan ally who has publicly endorsed Trump said in a text-message tirade.

“This would seem to signal that Trump is ready to go double-barrel against all of Washington, Republicans and Democrats alike,” the GOP lawmaker continued. “Breitbart takes a flamethrower to Washington and plays very loose with the facts. I would anticipate an even more bellicose, even less-connected-to-the-facts approach from the Trump campaign moving forward.”

Now, there are two possibilities. Here’s the first one:

Long-time Republican strategist John Feehery, who is also a columnist for The Hill, said he thought Conway was “a good hire” who could “bring some much-needed discipline” to Trump’s quest.

But he added, regarding Bannon’s elevation: “I know how it is going to be perceived on the Hill and among the leadership: it’s not gonna be perceived very well. Because Breitbart are nuts! They’re unhinged. They do stories that are not journalistically credible.”

Feehery added that if Trump were going to “run a Breitbart-type campaign, we are going to get 30 percent of the vote.”

But the second possibility is that Trump can be more effective by offering an undifferentiated condemnation of all of Washington.

In one particularly felicitous deal, Bannon’s fee included an early stake in “Seinfeld,” the residuals of which alone would turn out to be enough to make him wealthy.

Along the way, he developed a worldview remarkably in tune with what is now regarded as Trumpism: suspicious of free trade and liberal immigration policies, wary of military adventurism, and contemptuous of the old order.

Expect Trump to stop caring what Paul Ryan thinks and go after him as indistinct from Clinton on trade, immigration and military adventurism. He may or may not avoid making this critique personal by calling out Ryan by name, but he will certainly make the point clear that he’s running to destroy Ryan’s power within the Republican Party.

In other words, Trump has pivoted, but he is about to pivot again. And this time he is going to give up on patching together as much of the Republican Establishment as he can and just go after them without restraint.

This has one advantage. The other strategy was a sure loser. This new strategy is at least different, and it’s an acknowledgment of something I’ve been arguing for years now, that no Republican can win with the Bush/McCain/Romney coalition, and that the only hope for a Republican nominee is to reshape the electorate. For Trump to succeed, he needs to stop worrying about winning traditional Republicans and try to eat deeply into the Democratic coalition, and he can at least attempt to do this by getting to Clinton’s left on trade and foreign policy while carving out some of the George Wallace Democrats who are angry about job competition and immigration. By blasting the Republicans as just as bad as Clinton on these issues, he gets a little more credibility when he makes his pitch.

I don’t think it will work, but it’s saner than continuing down a path that is guaranteed to result in humiliation.

However, it also has a much higher risk of resulting in a landslide defeat that consumes the Republicans’ congressional majorities, because the GOP now stands to get attacked by all five presidential candidates (including Gary Johnson, Jill Stein and Evan McMullin).

Martin Longman

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