Politics & Policy

In 2016, Each Party Chooses Its Destructor

Trump takes the stage at a rally in Colorado Springs, Colo., October 18, 2016. (Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)
The Republican and Democratic parties are both in for a painful readjustment.

On Wednesday, after months of cannily tiptoeing around the roving poison-ivy patch that is the Trump presidential campaign, Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell essentially jumped in, whipped off his glasses, and gleefully rolled around. “We need a new president, Donald Trump,” he told a Kentucky rally, “to be the most powerful Republican in America.” 

Interesting phrasing, is it not? For months, McConnell has played it cool when it comes to the bombastic Trump campaign, soothing Republicans with talk of various institutional checks, balances, and constraints. “I don’t believe,” McConnell insisted in June, that “Donald Trump will change the Republican party.”

But now, as the election inches closer — it hasn’t been scientifically proven, but I personally believe this November can be more effectively measured in dog years than days — it’s apparently time for a lukewarm truth bath. Here it is: “The most powerful Republican in America.” For reluctant Trump supporters, the implication should be at least a bit jarring. It’s also what Trump cynics have been hollering about for a while now: If Trump wins the presidency and decides to go rogue — i.e., be himself — the GOP will likely run short on resources when it comes to reining him in.

In the thick of this goofball year, deep in the maze of machinations, enthusiastic closet skeletons, and the countless he-said-she-saids, it’s a truth that often gets lost. If there is a President Trump, of course he’ll reshape the Republican party. The Donald would serve as the GOP’s most visible standard-bearer, looming as the party’s loudest, largest, always-on-TV face. Scandals would continue to dog him. There’s a fair chance that airborne gaffes would become the new national bird. Opponents of “conservatism” — Trump would be labeled “conservative,” no matter what his positions might be — would gain ammunition for years to come.

Trump also, of course, would likely work to alienate the very voters — young people, minorities, and women — that the GOP has struggled to attract year after year. He is, in a way, the perfect GOP destructor, at least in its present form. But in this rarified accomplishment, Trump is not alone. Oh, no. This year has provided an embarrassment of riches (if by riches, you mean torture), and a glorious booby prize for each of the major political parties.

Think, for a moment, of the absurdity of Hillary Clinton, a woman who is sincerely having trouble convincing America that she could handle the nuclear football better than Donald Trump, a reality TV star with profound self-control issues who tweets things like “I would like to extend my best wishes to all, even the haters and losers, on this special date, September 11.” That is impressively bad. Clinton carries baggage of epic proportions, packed to the gills with various zombie skulls and terrifying giant spiders and unsettling repeat guest appearances from Carlos Danger, a sad-hearted sexting addict who increasingly resembles an elongated, stressed-out raisin. 

Do you like scandal? A Clinton administration would certainly deliver, with constant whispers of indictment and occasional shouts of impeachment. (Both, by the way, have already begun.) Unlikeable, dishonest, corrupt, hapless, and likely just plain worn out, a Clinton administration would quickly grow old and toxic to the bright-eyed, enthusiastic Bernie Sanders supporters — again, younger voters — who reluctantly pulled the lever for Democrats in 2016.

As for old-school Democrats tired of “safe space” social-justice sanctimony — or repeated elite environmental panic — the Clinton administration will certainly do its best to try and crack them, too.

There is a quiet destruction afoot, at least in the heart of our two major political parties.

Oh, and as Obamacare continues to blow up, and politicians eventually run out of excuses, guess who would own it? That’s right: President Clinton, just like she would own economic woes, international instability, and, thanks to her “establishment” position and her years in the Obama administration, whatever else might befall the country over the next four years. In other words, she’s the perfect Democrat destructor.

This election has not lacked for drama, what with grave-faced pundits predicting the end of America, Hitler analogies flying around like banana peels in a cafeteria food fight, and the Sweet Meteor of Death rocketing to sudden cult stardom. Odds are, that drama is overblown. But there is a quiet destruction afoot, at least in the heart of our two major political parties.

Both are tired. Both face demographic challenges. Both will be forced to adjust from their current iteration, whether they like it or not. Whether they do so in a positive way is anybody’s guess. But here we are in 2016, with both parties facing absurdist candidates who will likely hasten that pending adjustment. Here’s the real kicker: Whoever “wins” this year may just end up winning the first painful wake-up call.

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