observations and opinion
Everyone else knows something that the Republicans don’t. Yet.
The 2016 U.S. Presidential election poses a constant, aching question which may never hear an honest answer: why would any informed person or office holder – even a Republican – support Donald Trump? More pointedly, how is it that so few Republicans denounce him? And going further, why won’t they just endorse Hillary Clinton?
Well-trained Republicans will mouth the words about Hillary’s alleged deficiencies: liberal policy inclinations, the likelihood she would appoint pro-choice Justices and the heaping pile of “character” stories or the events in Benghazi. There’s no end to the excuses Republicans will offer for saying “Never Hillary.” And so we hear the repeated refrain that despite reservations about Trump, the prospect of voting for Clinton is unthinkable.
But that’s not credible. Many Republicans – from Paul Ryan to John McCain to Kelly Ayotte, hell, just about all of them probably – know that Donald Trump is a darkly twisted, amoral beast likely afflicted with cognitive and not just character deficiencies. They know that Trump must not become President of the United States. And they probably know that they personally, along with most of the GOP political class, won’t campaign or even vote for Trump.
Some Republicans have already said they won’t vote for him. Most of those aren’t running for office or are so securely in place that offending Republican voters is not a concern. Maine Senator Susan Collins could wear a tinfoil hat and stump for Iggy Pop for President, with little risk to her job security. So she came out the other day to say she would not vote for Trump. But she didn’t say who she would vote for.
No, they won’t vote for Trump. But they won’t say that they will vote for a highly experienced former Secretary of State who was once a widely liked and admired member of the U.S. Senate. Republicans control the House and the Senate today, yet among their ranks there is ONE Congressman who has endorsed Hillary Clinton. That’s what passes for courage these days, in the U.S. Republican Party.
Who will they vote for? Gee, can we guess? Yup. This year many Republicans, from the highest office holders to the occasional voter, will slump through this campaign quietly, tending their own garden and then, on Election Day, they will pull the lever for Hillary Clinton. Like the “Shy Tories” who elected David Cameron last year (remember him?), they will keep their intentions to themselves and then, in the privacy of the voting booth, do what they must. This act, like one’s browser history or unusual underwear purchases, will remain cloaked in a kind of shame. Never has the secret ballot been so precious to so many Republicans.
Why the weird reluctance? For many, it’s peer pressure. They just can’t admit to voting for That Woman. And for more loyal Republicans, it’s brand loyalty: the Republican Party has become the Party that Hates the Democrats. And for two decades, it’s been the Party that Hates the Clintons Especially. With the vital assistance of their own TV news network (Fox) and skilful voter suppression, the GOP has yanked Congressional majorities out of a populace which is pretty unfriendly towards what Republicans offer as policy.
The modern Republican Party runs as a kind of old west travelling tonic wagon, selling a pro-gun, pseudo-Christian theocratic economic Darwinism for the profit of GOP members and their monied masters. The elixir in the bottle doesn’t fix anything – and it tastes awful – but it sure makes the salesman feel good. And all of that depends upon the local rubes buying the stuff in the bottle.
Which is a problem, because everyone knows that Donald Trump would be a nightmarish, fascistic at worst, inept at best, President. No Republican wants that guy in the White House. They likely all prefer Hillary and will vote for her. But, having marketed the Democrats as a kind of infectious disease and the GOP as the cure, how can Newt’s Children possibly side with Hillary now?
They can’t. Or so they think.
The present theory among leading Republicans is that if Clinton wins big at the top of the ballot, voters will continue down the box to tick more “D’s” than their customary “R’s.” Republicans think this because they believe most voters – certainly their own voters – to be pretty damned dumb. Maybe they’re right. If they undermine their own lethally anti-Democrat messaging now, by staying neutral or even endorsing Clinton, they risk not only the down ballot domino effect but also the destruction of their whole reason for being.
They think it would be brand suicide. And they would be right, except for one thing: the Republicans have already committed brand suicide.
That happened when sixteen of the Republican “best and brightest” crashed their clown car into a ditch, while Trump and his brain dead zombies feasted on the dumbed-down, Fox-newsified GOP primary voters. It’s not Dole’s or Gingrich’s or even Mitch McConnell’s Republican Party anymore. It’s the ReTrumplican Party.
Meanwhile, Speaker Paul Ryan is trying to hold together a circus that is unravelling. He is hanging onto his brand for dear life. He figures that if he keeps one light bulb on and the curtains drawn, nobody will notice that there was a mass murder in the kitchen and that the house has burned down.
The modern national GOP, the We’re Glad You’re Stupid Party, which vaulted so many awful people into seats of influence, is finished. Like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense, the Republicans are walking around dead. They just don’t know it yet.
It is true that the Republicans’ gerrymandering and vote suppression, married to state houses and huge amounts of special interest money, gives them resilience in Congress. They may be able to go into a dazed crouch, keep their heads down and survive, clinging to the brand and praying (they like their praying) for a better day.
But this ignores a key reality: a majority of Americans has already concluded that Donald Trump is utterly unfit to be President of the United States. He gives more people, more reasons, every day to arrive at this conclusion. With negatives in the 60s and rising, Donald Trump isn’t a tonic in a bottle – he’s bleach. Good for making things whiter but if you drink it, you die. Most people have figured that out and those people will be giving money, and votes, to the only candidate who can stop Trump.
Her name is Hillary.
And those people, tens of millions of them, are going to ask themselves a question: “if I can figure out that Donald Trump is a danger to America, why the hell can’t Paul Ryan figure it out? ”
What Mr. Ryan and his cohorts don’t seem to understand, is that if they want their brand to survive, they can’t wrap that brand around a monster. They have to cut the monster loose. They have to sterilize their brand soon, or watch it die of Trumpism.
Mr. Ryan and his friends can still figure this out. In the months between now and November, as Trump’s destruction looks more inevitable, they may find a reason to make their rat-like leap from the sinking ship. It is probably their only hope. We know they don’t really care about the country. Let’s see if they’re still smart enough even to be self-serving.