The Self-Immolation of the Republican Party

Column: How the GOP lit itself on fire

Donald Trump
June 17, 2016

The Darwin Awards is a popular website that "commemorates individuals who protect our gene pool by making the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives. Darwin Award winners eliminate themselves in an extraordinarily idiotic manner, thereby improving our species’ chances of long-term survival." I'd like to nominate a certain political party for one. It should win hands down.

The competition is tough. "All human races, cultures, and socioeconomic groups are eligible," according to the contest rules. Though these rules do not specifically mention political institutions, the Republican Party, founded in 1854, meets the criteria for entry. No doubt about it.

Its story is true—as much a part of our reality as the sky and the stars. The voters that make up the party are, as the rules stipulate, "capable of sound judgment." By supporting the least qualified, least knowledgeable, most unsuited major-party nominee for president in history, they are engaged in an "astounding misapplication of judgment." Every week that Donald Trump remains the Republican nominee, the party comes closer to removing itself from the presidential gene pool. Self-selection is at work here. Trump’s supporters are choosing their party’s demise.

Want proof? Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University, built a model that has correctly predicted presidential elections since 1992. The model says the GOP is set to win the presidency this year, 51 percent to 49 percent. But Abramowitz says to ignore his findings, not because they are wrong but because they describe an election that is not actually taking place. "The model is based on the assumption that the parties are going to nominate mainstream candidates who will be able to unite the party, and that the outcome will be similar to a generic vote, a generic presidential vote for a generic Democratic versus a generic Republican."

Translation: If Republican voters had nominated a typical candidate, a governor or former governor who had won office in a big state by straddling the center and the right, that man would be ahead of Hillary Clinton right now. But instead the voters went for Trump, who has never run for nor held office, dodged the draft, and spent the last year insulting Mexicans, P.O.W.s, women, the disabled, Muslims, you name it, while saying George W. Bush lied us into war with Iraq and implying Ted Cruz’s dad had a hand in the Kennedy assassination. Then there was the part where he bragged about his genitals before ranting that he would order soldiers to commit war crimes and "If I say do it, they’re going to do it." This week he cast the troops in Iraq as thieves, threw his support behind an unconstitutional proposal to deny Second Amendment rights to citizens on the no fly list, invited Kim Jong Un to Washington, hinted that President Obama supported ISIS, denied press credentials to the Washington Post after the paper reported this insinuation, and then turned around and tweeted that a article proved he was right about Obama all along.

This is not a good man. This is not a stable man. It is in the self-interest of no rational person to have him near the situation room. So it does not come as a surprise to see support for Donald Trump collapsing in the Real Clear Politics poll average. Hillary Clinton now leads him by about six points. His unfavorable rating in the ABC News / Washington Post poll is up to 70 percent, a record high. The election isn’t until November 8. Where will Trump’s unfavorable rating be then? 85 percent? 90? He’ll make the record books all right—as the most reviled nominee in U.S. history.

A majority of voters told CBS that Hillary Clinton would win the presidency. An analysis of 11 battleground states conducted by Politico has Clinton winning 8 of them. The GOP as a whole has a favorable rating of only 32 percent, the lowest number since Bloomberg started polling in 2009. Maryland governor Larry Hogan, one of the most popular officials in the country, said he would not vote for the nominee of his party. The Reuters poll has the Democrats leading the Republicans in the congressional generic ballot by 11 points. In recent days Trump has hired a pollster for indigo-blue New York and traveled to Georgia, Texas, and Arizona, even though Ohio, Virginia, and Florida will decide the election. Next week Trump plans to travel to Scotland—not to meet with foreign dignitaries but to reopen one of his golf resorts. He knows nothing, has done nothing but promote himself for 30 years, and deserves nothing. And he’s not going to change. Seventy year olds do not change.

Four years ago I wrote that the summer of an election year is when campaigns define their opponents. In 2012, Barack Obama’s campaign transformed Mitt Romney from a mild-mannered technocrat into a soulless tool of capital. On Thursday Clinton began her television campaign against Trump, spending millions of dollars in swing states that will define the New York real estate developer as a risk to the nation’s economy and security, a misogynist and bigot, an ignoramus and doofus. She won’t be wrong.

What is most remarkable is that the television advertising is beside the point. It is Donald Trump who has done the Democrats’ work for them, defining himself in the most negative terms through an unending series of inane, ludicrous, and deranged comments. It’s not the media, the party elite, the Democrats sabotaging Donald Trump. It’s Trump. This is self-immolation on an epic scale.

Trump and his supporters overstate his competitiveness by conflating the wishes of the Republican primary electorate with those of the general electorate. Trump will replicate his success, they say, by continuing to do the things that won him the Republican nomination: "telling it like it is," accepting "the mantle of anger," not being "politically correct." This is a huge error. Not only do Trump’s utterances repel Democratic voters—a number of which any successful candidate has to win—but they also frighten Republican ones. Romney got 47 percent of the vote in 2012. To use a real-estate metaphor: How do you expect to build a skyscraper when you are demolishing the foundation?

Trump supporters will tell me that I am paying too much attention to the polls, even though they fetishized the same polls throughout the primary. They are wrong. Any serious campaign analyst looks at the polls. It is mid-June, Clinton has had a consistent lead that is beginning to widen. What is likely to change the trajectory of this race? The terror attack in Florida did not change it. Whatever bounce Trump gets from the convention will dissipate by October. The debate—and there may be only one—is unlikely to move the needle in his direction. He’ll probably be able to hold himself together for about 35 minutes, then the moderator or Clinton will say something and he’ll let himself go, ranting about Monica Lewinsky and how Mitt Romney is a choke artist and all the people Hillary has murdered. And when we are in late October, and Trump is still behind, his supporters will dismiss the polls as skewed, as phony. And when Trump loses, his cheerleaders in talk radio and on the Internet won’t accept a smidgen of responsibility, but will blame the neocons and the media and the Republican establishment for not doing more to help a lunatic become president.

It’s a joke. All of it: his candidacy, the apparatus of propaganda and grift surrounding it, the failures of governance and education and culture that have brought us to this place. What disturbs me most is the prospect that Donald Trump is what a very large number of Republican voters want: not a wonk, not an orator, not a statesman, not even a leader, really, if by leader you mean someone who persuades and inspires and manages a team to pursue a common good. They just want a man who vents their anger at targets above and below their status.

How cathartic it is to give voice to your fury, to wallow in self-righteousness, in helplessness, in self-serving self-pity. It’s what one expects of teenagers, artists, bloggers, pajama boys—immature, peevish, radical, self-destructive behavior. If that is how Republican voters would like to end their days, in a defensive posture of suspicion and loathing of this big crazy wonderful country that has made them literally the wealthiest and most entitled generation of human beings in the history of the world, well, that’s their right as Americans, I suppose. Best of luck. The Darwin Award will be ready for you November 9.