Let’s give Donald Trump his due. He’s defying all the predictions, confusing all the pundits, blowing conventional wisdom right out of the water. Trump pretty much shattered a mold that, for all our sakes, deserves to be broken.
Donald Trump is not my guy. He has a long history of “bipartisan,” self-dealing opportunism, happy gaming the system when it suits, and he seems no different now. So color me concerned. But I’ll bet the Republican “establishment” is utterly terrorized at this point in the 2016 presidential contest.
Of all the “conventional Republican” candidates, such as Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Chris Christie, possibly Carly Fiorina, none poll in double digits. Instead, three “outsider” candidates – Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz, share a towering 61 percent of total Republican (or “not Democrat”) voter support.
Let’s also add in Marco Rubio’s 12 percent – while he has “moderated” somewhat, Rubio was elected to the U.S. Senate in the Tea Party wave of 2010. It’s also significant to note that Rubio polled so well in Florida’s 2010 primaries that his establishment Republican opponent Charlie Crist (Florida’s sitting governor) withdrew from the primary to run (and lose) as an “independent.” Crist joined the Democratic Party in late 2012, endorsed Barack Obama’s re-election, ran and lost for Florida’s governorship again in 2014, and is now running for Congress – as a Democrat. Coincidence? Heck no!
Today, the “outsiders” are fighting for a combined 73 percent of expected Republican primary voters, while the establishment candidates are fighting for the remaining 27 percent. That’s pretty stark math – once the candidates cannibalize each other and the factional votes settle on a standard-bearer, odds don’t favor the “establishment” getting the final GOP nomination.
Good or bad? Well, in 2010 Republican elites reacted to the Tea Party wave by trying to harness it, treating participants as nothing more than “booboisie,” in effect a useful voting bloc to be controlled and manipulated by the experts to secure power for “mainstream” Republicans. Were there any substantive policy changes to the larger establishment Republican brand?
What the establishment mulishly fails to accept is, the “Republican brand” would be nothing were it not for the Tea Party wave in 2010 and the 2012-14 backwashes. “Business-as-usual” Republicanism was losing against “free-stuff-as-usual” Democratism – and the fact is, “as usual” has served America terribly.
How so? Well, when I was young and handsome, America’s national debt passed the unspeakable $1 trillion mark. Reagan and Bush the first didn’t do anything serious to address the issue, nor did our “bipartisan” Congresses. “New Democrat” Bill Clinton and a mostly Republican Congress then slashed at each other’s pet projects, slowing the bloat and even putting the prospect of balanced budgets on the horizon.
That didn’t last. Republican “establishment guy” George W. Bush, supported by a Republican Congress, doubled our national debt from $4 trillion to $9 trillion – a feckless “establishment” Republican hegemony that set the stage for Barack Obama’s election and re-election against two, yep, establishment, “electable” Republicans – John “Maverick” McCain and Mitt “Flip” Romney. That worked well, kids – now President Barack Obama will double the national debt yet again, leaving future generations a “legacy” of over $19 trillion, which almost certainly would be trillions more had fiscally illiterate “establishment” Democrats “kept” Congress after the 2010 Tea Party election.
So, with the pundits moaning and groaning about whether or not the Republican Party will “survive” (by nominating a 2016 candidate that will actually become president), the fact is many “R” voters no longer vote to give power to establishment Republicans. They vote to take, and keep, power away from establishment Democrats – and no amount of super-PAC millions can ever change those votes.
If the GOP establishment keeps ignoring this new reality, the establishment will lose – but there’s more to the Republican Party than the establishment. Lots more.
As writer Molly Ball at the Atlantic (who absolutely does not write from a conservative perspective) has noted, the “GOP establishment […] has held onto power despite being resented by its most loyal voters.” Donald Trump has tapped into that resentment, for better or worse.
Here’s hoping for better.