Political Narratives are stories that back up a particular world-view or strategy. They are the telling of the "How we win" future or "Why we aren't what our enemies say we are" or "Why things are okay." In 2008 the Republicans had, for example, a narrative that people just wouldn't vote for a black president. In 2012, there was the polls-are-lying narrative. These didn't collapse--they just ran out: when the voting happened, they were proven false.
On the other hand, they held up right to the election so they were reasonably durable in the face of a bunch of reasons to think they weren't.
This time, for 2016, the narratives are actually collapsing during the campaign. Narratives are the structural supports that justify behaviors and allow people to stand behind strategies. As these collapse it becomes harder and harder for the election to have cohesion. It weakens not only the coalitions that rely on them but also the faith in the process itself,
Let's look at three popular GOP narratives which are falling apart as we watch.
The "Hillary Sucks" NarrativeThe narrative is that Hillary, the worst possible candidate, was all the Democrats had. In this story, the Democrats are corralled by their gender-essentialism and lack of a bench (everyone else was super old and not presidential timber) into making the only choice possible: A terrible one--Hillary Clinton. They were going to fly her, woman hated by everyone, directly into combat untested, unloved, and uncharismatic. She would be destroyed by the least of the Republican bench.
The True Part: The Democrats did, indeed, lack a strong bench. When they gathered everyone they could think of, it was Biden, Warren, Hillary, a self-avowed socialist Independent from Vermont, and some guys you never heard of. Hillary was, yes, the best of the lot.
It is also true that Hillary, on the charisma scale, is not all that high (maybe a 12?). She's not as bad as her detractors make her out to be--but she's no Bill Clinton (in his prime). She's no Obama. She isn't a rock-star.
It's also true that she has some baggage. Decades in politics have given people plenty to dislike if they're looking. She has her email thing. Benghazi. White Water. Vince Foster. Etc.
She might get indicted--or even go to jail over the emails--but betting on that is a long shot. In that event, Sanders would likely be a far weaker candidate--but probably not weak enough to cause the party to disintegrate.
The Collapse: Here are a few points it's going to be hard for anyone to disagree with:
- As bad as Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren might have been, they look good compared to the complete failure of the 17 super-candidates the GOP fielded. Sure, they've got problems--but would Biden really gaffe worse than Scott Walker?
- Yes, half the voting public hates Hillary--the GOP half. Gallup, however, finds her the most admired woman in the world . . . for the 20th time. Also: when she was Secretary of State--before she became a serious candidate--and as first lady--she scored a stellar 66% as a high and a really good 56% average popularity. The Omnivore knows: you just can't believe it, can you??
- You can find no end of stories either lamenting or glorying in the lack of enthusiasm for Hillary. Gallup, for example, finds her leading the Democratic pack at a very healthy 56% and less than 10pts behind fanatical Trump voters (64%). Wait--what? Well, let's keep it in perspective: she's only 10pts ahead of Bernie Sanders.The Omnivore gets it--this is like hearing the earth is flat, right? Fact checkers even find her the most honest and truthful. (Look, we do know they're biased--but at this point that's just salt in the wound).
The "GOP Can Win With White Voters" Narrative
One of the plus-sides to the death of the GOP post-2012 Autopsy which recommended better minority relations, was that the GOP candidates seemed poised to do even better than before with white / male voters. They could bring over Democrats. They could have a bunch more of them turn out. They could crush the minority vote and without Obama on the ticket, the black vote wouldn't happen anyway.
The True Part: The true part is that the GOP is, likely, to court more of the white vote than Romney did. They will improve in the largest racial demographic in America. This will be enough to throw some uncertainty into the outcome as the race (probably) tightens. It is also true that Obama will not actually be on the ticket.
The Collapse: Right now the Democratic narratives are basically all coming true at once--including the fact that the GOP relies on the racist-vote.
- War On Women? Check. Donald Trump speculates around punishing women who have abortions, stating what everyone on the pro-choice side of the fence felt was the real (if toxic) position of the pro-life movement anyway. He's taken gender-based shots at Megyn Kelly, Cruz's wife, and a female Brietbart reporter. As the leading Republican candidate--that right there is a 'war on women.' His un-popularity with women is north of 70%. This is fatal in a world where, in 2012, women were 51% of the voters.
- Racist Republicans? Check. Mexicans. Violence towards black protesters. And Trump rises in the polls. Josh Barrow says what everyone is already thinking: The GOP Would Be Screwed Without Racist Voters. Philip Klein in the (right-leaning) National Examiner points out what everyone is already seeing: even if racism is a small part of Trump's appeal, it sure doesn't seem to be disqualifying. Does it?
- Black Voters Won't. Un-Check. It appears that the Trump Ascension has galvanized some key Democratic voting blocs. Unmarried white women? Enthusiasm up 12% from last year. Minority voters? Up 9%. College women? +12. Millennials? +7%.
The "It Won't Be Trump" Narrative
This graphic has virtually been retired from Twitter--but the narrative was that (a) the laws of politics would finally re-assert themselves and (b) The GOP might flirt with disaster--but would not rush headlong into it. Eventually the Not-Romnies would all collapse and the big states--the big blue states--would vote for Scott Walker. Or Ted Cruz. Or Jeb Bush. Bobby Jindal was a strong governor. Chris Christie had cross-over appeal and charisma. Hey--we got two young, upcoming Hispanic Senators . . .
The True Part: It . . . might not be Trump. The Stop-Trump forces have massed--and while they're underdogs, don't underestimate the power of a ton of billionaires and the party machinery.
The Collapse: It's Trump. Even if Trump is shot down, either in a sudden collapse in the next 3 months or at the convention, the rift is real and it isn't going away. Hillary campaigned with Obama. Do you think Trump will campaign with Ted Cruz? Uh-huh. If they manage to stop him at the convention . . . the party is split into two pieces like the Titanic and goes to the bottom of the ocean.
Also, here's a hard truth: the next runner-up might be worse.
Ted Cruz is not as toxic as Trump--but he is very disliked. He cannot pivot in the general (Trump can pivot like a Lazy Susan--but it may not be enough to save him). Cruz is also personally hated by the party machine.
This is Kasich's strategy: I'll be disliked by the party--but they hate Cruz. If they have to choose someone who ran (psst: John, they'll choose Paul Ryan) it'll be Kasich. Well, say what you will, it's a strategy.
Also: Trump leads by 37 freakin' Points in Big-Blue New York. He leads by 8 in California.
The pundits tell a lot of stories--and stories have gotten us a fair distance--but some of them were always lies and the Trump Campaign has unmasked some of the most powerful.