|The Party Decides is a seminal, scholarly work that informed much political thought. It seems to be wrong on every count this cycle.|
- The Debate Smack-Down: Trump got almost all the questions and took fire from both sides of the podium in last Thursday's 10th debate. He did not have a good night and has been mocked heavily by Marco Rubio ever sense.
- A Morale Boost: For conservatives in The Omnivore's Twitter time-line, the attacks, coordinated such as they are (not very--but at least Rubio and Cruz aren't currently savaging each other) were a huge morale boost. The pledge #NeverTrump trended on Twitter as conservatives threw down their promise never to vote for Trump whether he is the nominee or not.
- The Christie Endorsement: Then, less than 12 hours into the pro-Marco news-cycle, the Chris Christie endorsement landed. It was a jaw-dropper. Christie's endorsement might not count for much with the rank-and-file but it did something that is hard to do any other way: it legitimized Donald Trump at the worst possible moment. Moreover, it stole the news cycle.
- Trump Refuses to Refudiate the KKK. Asked about an endorsement from still-white-supremacist David Duke, Trump hedged (he later disavowed or at least 'disavowed') on rejecting Duke's endorsement. Exactly what was going on in Trump's mind isn't clear, of course, but it gave credence to every The-GOP-Is-Racist argument out there. Intellectual conservatives were horrified. The top theory is that Trump didn't want to lose his white-nationalist base.
- The Christie Melt-Down: In the scrum of frantic pre-Super-Tuesday politicking, Christie was cornered and grilled about his wavering positions on Trump's suitability to be president. Predictably, he didn't have a good answer (how could he? He just spent the last several months telling us how Trump was pretty much ineligible on the basis of his temperament, policies, and character to be POTUS). It was humiliating as was the Vine of Trump sending Christie off 'like a dog' to get on a plane and go home.
- The #Never-Trump Rally. The KKK-fiasco combined with the Christie Humiliation and some large Marco Rubio rallies with good zingers rekindled the anti-Trump movement's flagging morale. He was making 'so many unforced errors,' they thought, he could be in for a bruising, perhaps catastrophic Super Tuesday.
- The Sessions Endorsement: Then, finally, last night the unthinkable happened. In Alabama Jeff Sessions--one of the most powerful voices in conservative politics--came out and endorsed Donald Trump on stage. This goes beyond credibility or legitimacy and elevates Trump to the top culture warrior on the issue of immigration.
- Super Tuesday votes tomorrow.
What To Make Of This
It is hard to see this set of events as anything other than a sign of Whig-Style collapse. The defection of people like Chris Christie and Jeff Sessions indicates that not only can Trump split the party at its base--but can split the party at its top. Trump, now starting to gain real endorsements, is becoming more and more legitimate across a broader and broader spectrum of the GOP.
This, combined with the #NeverTrump pledge seems like prima facie evidence of a party-split. This is especially in contrast to #BernieOrBust or Hillary's own 2008 PUMAS in that it is less about a temper-tantrum in favor of one-preferred-candidate and, instead, is a singular rejection of a specific candidate. We did see this with Romney to a degree, yes, but the presentation was different.
With Romney the Never-Roms were saying he could not win--and therefore was a wasted vote and a bad candidate. While it's true that some people are saying they don't think Trump can beat Hillary, that isn't their primary complaint. The #NeverTrump argument is based on the idea that even if he could win--and that, perhaps especially because he might win--he must be rejected. That's . . . different.
Is this a Whig-Style collapse?
At this point one of three things will happen:
- The Party Survives: In this case the party wins its battle with the Trumpian insurrection and Rubio is the nominee. In this scenario, Trump-voters are mightily pissed off but Rubio wins it fair-and-square and the majority of them think Rubio is better than Hillary.
- The Party Divides: In this scenario (a) Trump wins the nomination and (b) the #NeverTrump faction is sufficient to be obviously fatal (2-3% of the base electorate would do it). At this point the basic Republican coalition to win a national election no longer exists--even in theory. The principled conservatives have to choose between retooling a new party with some kind of compromise position or going into the wilderness. The white-national group goes to war.
- The Party Abides: In this case the party, unable to break because a break is unthinkable, muddles through, takes its loss, and plans to get 'em next time. Somehow.
It is no surprise that the demise of the Whig party required no less than the Civil War. The pressures against breaking your party in half and then trying to carry on are immense. For principled conservatives it would mean coming to grips with a democrat/progressive wing with which there is vanishingly little middle ground. For the moderate/angry wing it would mean a failure to address their anger through the political process.
The Omnivore will go with #3--but we should be cognizant that a sundering party--if we are looking at one--is a failure not just for Republicans--but for American democracy.