Politics & Policy

There Are No Silver Linings for the GOP This Year

Trump supporters at a rally in Atlanta, Ga., February 21, 2016. (Branden Camp/Getty)

Of all the happy games with which the sorry spectator might seek to distract himself this season, a search for silver linings is without doubt the most futile. Once, it seemed possible that November would bring with it the completion of the conservative rebuilding project. Now, the Right teeters on the edge of obliteration. Even if the clown show of the last eight months has done nothing to reduce our standing before the world, the numbers before us are clear: Donald Trump’s takeover of the Republican party has been an unmitigated catastrophe. If it ever was, this isn’t playtime any more.

Those of us who tend toward optimism have at times struck an easy, saccharine pose. “2016 is lost,” we have thought. “Long live 2020!” Alas, this cheer has been naive and Pollyanna-ish. What, we should ask, could possibly dull the anger? In what circumstance is the fever likely to break?

Frankly, I can find none. We are now told — nay, warned — that to deny Trump the nomination will yield chaos and resentment. Indeed it will. But so, too, will his prevailing. Suppose that Trump were to lose the general election by a smallish margin. Won’t the dissenters be blamed for the loss? Suppose Trump were to win, and take up the reins of office? How long would it take before the “establishment” was blamed for his failure to deliver, as were the Kulaks in 1930 and beyond? Suppose that Trump were to lose in a mighty, judgment-rendering blowout — a favored scenario among the let-it-burn contingent’s more moderate wing. Wouldn’t all bets be off as to the consequences?

#share#In more sensible times a substantial repudiation would be treated as hard and unpleasant evidence — of hubris, of pique, of the folly of insularity and pride. In this climate, though, it might serve only to stir the cauldron. Unchecked at last, Hillary Clinton and other beneficiaries of the massacre would run, calmly, through their laundry list: an amnesty bill here, an “assault weapons” ban there, a stark cultural change shoved up the rebels’ nostrils whenever the base demanded it. Watching in impotent horror, would the architects of this failure grow chastened, or would they grow ever more livid?

#related#How, in other words, is this cycle to be broken? And how will the Republican party escape its clutches? It is blithely asserted that a Trump nomination might be just the kick that the GOP needs. I see no evidence for this. If this is the plurality’s reaction to “failure” in Washington, won’t that reaction be hardened when the Left has free rein? If we have learned anything over the last few months, it is that primary elections and general elections are not the same thing, and that too many see “electability” less as an asset than as a flaw. What in this philosophy of loss will prevent the GOP from shrinking into a rump? If Obama begat Trumpism, and Trumpism begets Hillaryism, what comes next in the line? SuperTrumpism? It will be a long way home.

It will seem peculiar to the historians of the future that, having made it this far across no-man’s-land, the Right preferred to crack up in toto rather than break through the last line of wire. But history is a strange and jagged master, and few ever see its contours clearly before it is too late. A year ago, the Right had a handful of aces; today, its cards augur disaster however they are played. There will be no silver linings on display this year. All we have left is “I told you so.”

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