One of the Republican’s great weaknesses this cycle was that there were too many cooks in the kitchen. Seventeen people jumped into the primary. It diluted the field and fractured the party. It’s death by a thousand paper cuts. A platoon of candidates trying to make their voice heard, locked in an arms race to see who can “out-conservative” who, with the goofiest antics rising to the top of the day’s news cycle and drowning out serious conservative ideas.
I’m wary of the constant stream of “this is the reason for Trump” think-pieces and you should be, too. But I don’t think there’s any question that the foul-mouthed buffoon rose to the top – in part — by exploiting the GOP’s live-action reenactment of Captain America: Civil War.
One of the GOP’s great structural weaknesses is that there’s little downside in running for president. It’s a 21st-century phenomenon, where 24-hour media has a voracious appetite for drama, infighting, and political theater.
Candidates don’t run for president to win. Not anymore at least. They run for relevance, Fox News contracts, and fame. To wit, Trump got in because he (rightly) figured that running for president was a cheap, easy way to advertise his brand. Two billion dollars’ worth of free media later, longtime conservatives are shaking their heads and wondering how the hell we got here. Maybe it’s a little too early to start writing the 2016 autopsy, especially given that the 2012 autopsy was rolled up and used to light one of Trump’s cigars. But one thing is for certain, this political ship of fools must be torpedoed with extreme prejudice.
So how do you keep the unserious goofballs out of the race? There will always be little tribes of support behind a candidate, sans perhaps Jim Gilmore. Santorum and Huckabee had their little city-state factions, Carson had something of a grass-roots wave. Trump had the damn French Revolution at his back.
I’ll be the jerk and say it. Post 2017, the RNC needs to slam the gate shut. I’ve tried to understand the rules on running for the Republican nomination, but my limited understanding is that if you have a pulse and can book a TV hit, you’re in. To hell with that nonsense. Let’s make running for the Republican nomination a truly conservative affair. You want it? Earn it. Raise $5 million for the RNC in the years before the nomination and only then do you qualify to run. Since their very presence will dilute the field and weaken the party, aspiring candidates must ante up and spend a few years helping other down-ballot Republicans get elected first.
It’s an ugly solution. It raises all kinds of questions about money in politics and will prompt some teeth gnashing from the type of voter who thinks Herman Cain was robbed in 2012. And the ballast shed will be mixed. You’d elbow out silly fools like Trump, but also likely miss out on some surprising talents like Carly Fiorina. It means the donor class will have a stronger say in who makes it through the gate, which some may argue fed the anti-establishment wave that got us here in the first place. But it will limit the GOP field to candidates who are actually running for president and not for a 7 p.m. Sunday show on Fox. It will favor aspiring presidents who care about conservative ideas and solutions and are passionate about getting other Republicans elected.
As it stands, the RNC knows no distinction between a candidate who helped propel two dozen congressional Republicans into office and a candidate like Trump who’s using the party infrastructure for a cheap, 18-month-long infomercial. That doesn’t make any damn sense. It’s long past time for the GOP to shed its dead weight and get back into fighting shape. Cut the fat, drop the fools, and come back lean, disciplined, and strong in 2020. It’ll be our last chance to hand the Clinton machine a loss.