The Suicide Bomb Wing of the GOP

I’ve been thinking this election is turning out to be no-brainer. Yes, we live in an era of extreme partisan polarization. I have argued Republicans could have nominated a hamster, and the rank-and-file would vote for him. But the power of party identification would appear to be insufficient for the general election voter to overlook the awfulness of Donald Trump.

Steve Schmidt, John McCain’s 2008 adviser, has said he thinks Hillary Clinton may end up with 400 electoral votes, which would be a landslide victory. You need 270 to win.

Trump is now running as a candidate from another country, meaning the contours of his candidacy are outside the bounds of liberal democratic norms. It has been this way for months, of course, but as the end draws near, that has gotten clearer, especially as he blindly rages against a “rigged” election.

Trump can’t lose. Just ask him. So he’s crying about a “rigged” system that can’t be rigged, as it’s a decentralized system and the race’s outcome won’t be close. But the implications of such rhetoric go beyond Trump to suggest that his Democratic opponent would be an illegitimate chief executive.

This puts pressure on down-ballot Republicans. They don’t want to be seen as outside the norm. They don’t want to be seen as opposite Trump. The Hill reported the concerns of a House Republican worried about the integrity the process. Tellingly, the representative did not want to be named.

All of which brings me to a question: Will a crushing defeat be enough to crush Trumpism? Would it finally break the historic GOP obstruction we have witnessed since 2010?

I don’t see a reason why it should.

The Republicans are going to learn as much from 2016 as they did from 2012, which is to say nothing. The problem in 2012 was not the Republican agenda. It was former nominee Mitt Romney. He was flawed. End of story. Ditto for Trump.

Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans will continue to oppose virtually everything a President Hillary Clinton requests. Sen. McCain has already said the Senate will block future Supreme Court nominees, raising the unprecedented possibility of a divided high court for the entirety of Clinton’s first term.

To do that, they need Donald Trump. Well, not Trump himself, but all that he has come to represent. The Republicans can’t continue to oppose a Democratic president on partisan grounds alone. That hurts them. They need a rationale. And with huge portions of the Republican electorate already believing that Clinton is going to steal the election, one would be hard pressed to find a better rationale for mindless obstruction.

But all that assumes the Republicans hold the House. Hence, the hairsplitting we see from that unnamed House Republican. Lean too much on the side of democratic norms and you risk enraging Trumpites. Lean too much on the side of Trumpism and you risk the ire of moderates who’ve had enough.

If Republicans hold the House, what then? What would it take to break the fever? Change, if it comes, comes from within.

As Martin Longman writes, the stage is already set for an informal split within the GOP between moderates who understand the imperative need to govern and Tea Party-Trumpites who haven’t the foggiest idea of what to do.

The result will be a suicide-bomber wing of the Republican Party marginalized by its own for the betterment of the party, the Congress, and the country. No one knows what the long-term will be, but for now, change is unlikely to come from the outside. Not even if a Hillary Clinton wins in a landslide.

John Stoehr

John Stoehr is a Washington Monthly contributing writer.