04 Aug 2016

Thinking the unthinkable (about Trump) in 2016

It looks like the honeymoon, if there ever really was one, is over for Candidate Trump, and people are seriously starting to consider whether it would be better for the Republican party if he just lost the election.

Writing in The Guardian, Katrina Jorgensen spells it out:

[F]or the party to come back strong after Donald Trump’s divisive candidacy […] the least-worst option is a major loss in the presidential race.

The key word here is “major”. Intentionally or not, Trump has signaled with his ‘rigged election’ comments that a narrow loss wouldn’t necessarily be a clear sign to sit down and shut up.

If Trump only trails [Clinton] by a few points, you can bet he will blame the Republicans who voted their conscience. Or he’ll kick up dirt over the “rigged” system, as he has already alluded to. Trump supporters in the party will go on a witch-hunt […] Only a loss by a wide margin would send a clear message to the Republican party: this is the wrong choice for America.

Basically, Republicans need to cordon off Trump from the rest of the party and in particular from down-ballot Senate elections. Barring an unexpected retreat by Trump himself, which seems unlikely, the Presidency is essentially a lost cause – but the House and Senate are not. Trump’s increasingly bizarre behavior may actually help differentiate other candidates from him, and make it more difficult for Democrats to use him as leverage, because he is simply that clearly divorced from the rest of the party’s mainstream candidates.

Then, the party needs to give some serious thought to its primary system. Ironically, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Republicans end up with the same sort of superdelegate-heavy system that the Democrats implemented, and which basically doomed the Sanders campaign in favor of the safe (but unpopular) Clinton in their own primary this year. So the strategy is certainly not without risks. But the general election, if it led to a lopsided Republican defeat by Clinton, would show that the failure mode of the superdelegate-heavy, establishment-driven primary system is preferable to the failure mode of the populist-driven system the Republicans currently use.

As Paul Ryan said earlier today, “[Republicans] are a grass-roots party; we aren’t a superdelegate party.” One can only wonder if perhaps he’s wishing that wasn’t the case.

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