The more I speak to supporters of Donald Trump, the more convinced I become that a significant portion of the man’s apologists are blissfully unaware of what is actually at stake in 2016. Time and time again, I’m told blithely that it doesn’t really matter if Trump loses in 2016, because a loss could not possibly be worse than the status quo. Trump, I am informed, is a “Hail Mary.” And if the Senate and the House go down, too? Well that’s just the price of trying to shake things up.
This, I’m afraid, is flat-out wrong. Disastrously wrong. Apocalyptically wrong. The Republican party is an imperfect vehicle and it has, of course, made mistakes. But the idea that it hasn’t effectively and consistently opposed President Obama’s agenda is little more than a dangerous and ignorant fiction. Had the GOP not been standing in the way — both from 2008, when it was in the minority everywhere, and from 2010, when it regained the House — the United States would look dramatically different than it does today. Without the GOP manning the barricades, Obamacare could well have been single payer, and, at the very least, the law would have included a “public option.” Without the GOP manning the barricades, we’d have seen a carbon tax or cap-and-trade — or both. Without the GOP manning the barricades, we’d have got union card check, and possibly an amendment to Taft-Hartley that removed from the states their power to pass “right to work” exemptions. Without the GOP standing in the way, we’d now have an “assault weapons” ban, magazine limits, background checks on all private sales, and a de facto national gun registry. And without the GOP standing in the way in the House, we’d have got the very amnesty that the Trump people so fear (it’s fine to oppose Marco Rubio for his support for the “Gang of 8″ bill, but it’s not fine to pretend that it didn’t matter that the Republicans ran the House when the reform bill left the Senate; it did).
A similar truth obtains at the state level. Had the GOP not taken over the vast majority of the country’s local offices since 2010, we’d have seen significantly less progress on right to work, the protection of life, school choice, and the right to keep and bear arms; we’d have seen a whole host of new sanctuary cities; we’d have had considerably fewer attorneys general rising up against Obama’s executive overreach; and, perhaps most importantly, we’d have seen Obamacare entrenched almost everywhere as state after state chose to expand Medicaid.
If the general election polls prove to be as accurate as were those that marked the primaries, Donald Trump is likely to lose in a blowout in November, and possibly to take the House and the Senate and a whole host of states with him. Or, put another way, a Trump nomination is likely to return the GOP to where it was back in 2008. And then? Well, then you can count on all of the above items being passed permanently into law.
Truth be told, the vast majority of the criticisms of the GOP’s performance since 2010 revolve around a willful misunderstanding of how the American constitutional system actually works, often coupled with a preference for saying — absent any real evidence — that Republicans just haven’t “fought hard enough.” Like it or not, the Constitution gives President Obama a veto, and that veto can be used both to kill legislation (as it was when Congress repealed Obamacare and defunded Planned Parenthood last year), and to force a shutdown in such cases as the president dislikes the budget. Simply saying that Congress enjoys the “power of the purse” does not change this. Yes, the House can refuse to include the president’s priorities in its spending bills. But, by virtue of the powers he is granted by the same document, the president can then refuse to sign off on those spending bills. At the moment, at least, Republicans are simply not popular enough to win the fights that result. To acknowledge this is not to “cave,” it is to accept political reality.
Which is to say that, absent super-majorities in both houses (super-majorities that the Republican party has enjoyed at no time since 2010), the scope for reversing rather than blocking Obama’s gains has always been slim. There is only one way in which the Republican party is going to usher in the sort of sweeping change that its voters would like to see, and that is to add the White House to its collection of public offices. Sadly, the party’s voters seem to have chosen another course. Worse still, they seem to have decided to risk their backstops as well, thereby rendering it likely that a loss at the presidential level will be transmuted into a loss everywhere else. I suspect that those responsible for this approach will only come to understand how utterly foolish is the idea that the GOP doesn’t matter when, having weakened it to an ignominious rump, they are forced to sit and watch in horror as the dam finally breaks.