Back in the day, back in a time that some of us still remember the Republican Party was the party of self-control, self-discipline, modesty, decorum and propriety. The Democratic Party had gathered all the ill-tempered louts, the obnoxious graduate students, the hippies, the yippies, the campus Red Guards and Brown Shirts, and the Occupy Wall Street protesters.
On the one side was the uber-polite George H. W. Bush. On the other side was an adulterous predator named Bill Clinton. Republicans embodied civic virtues, the values of patriotism and loyalty, while Democrats were self-absorbed, self-indulgent, drug-taking, sexually-liberated narcissists.
People are saying that Donald Trump will attack Hillary Clinton because she enabled her husband’s bad behavior. And yet, the Democrats will almost assuredly, at a time and place of their choosing, offer a one name counterthrust: Dennis Hastert. As you know the Republican former Speaker of the House of Representatives is going off to jail for fifteen months for trying to bribe victims of his child molestation into silence.
So much for the Grand Old Party. So much for the party of political virtue.
Now that the Republican Party seems to have become Donald Trump’s Party, one might say that, if anything, Trump, who recently waxed inelegant about John Kasich’s table manners, did not get to the verge of locking in the Republican presidential nomination by manifesting good manners, decorum or propriety. We are a long way from Ronald Reagan’s eleventh commandment: thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.
The Donald has been vulgar and repugnant and offensive. He has almost encouraged thuggery. He has insulted his way to the nomination. Rush Limbaugh is becoming joyfully paroxysmic over the thought that Trump is going to attack Hillary Clinton. If Rush imagines that the Clinton machine will not respond in kind, Rush is allowing his emotions to cloud his reason. As I said, think Dennis Hastert.
Now that the Republican Party has plight its troth to Donald Trump, we have the unseemly spectacle of the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, one John Boehner, letting loose, expressing his true feelings, breaking Ronald Reagan’s eleventh commandment by speaking very, very ill of another Republican.
Speaking at Stanford University, the deposed Speaker, a man who was clearly not up to the job, blamed it on Ted Cruz. Calling Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh,” Boehner went on to say that:
I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.
As it happens, Boehner golfs with Donald Trump. He exchanges texts with Donald Trump. As the voice of a repudiated Republican establishment, Boehner can live with Donald Trump. He cannot live with Ted Cruz.
For his part Boehner declared that he would never vote for Ted Cruz. He added that his fellow Ohioan John Kasich is difficult.
Cruz responded that Boehner was channeling his inner Donald Trump, but clearly the Republican establishment hates Cruz because Cruz was instrumental in bringing down Boehner. Now we find that Republican primary voters are voting for Trump because they have been led to believe that he is the anti-establishment candidate. Insiders know that the establishment can live with Trump because Trump does not know enough to cause them very much trouble. Cruz does. They are horrified at the prospect of facing a President Cruz. Things are getting curiouser and curiouser.
And, let’s not forget that Rep. Peter King, normally sane and sensible, said that if Ted Cruz is the nominee he would take cyanide. Now we know the issue in the campaign: Lena Dunham and Rosie O'Donnell leave the country or Peter King kills himself.
“Maybe he gives Lucifer a bad name by comparing him to Ted Cruz. Listen, what John Boehner was most concerned about was Ted Cruz perpetrated a fraud and a hoax when he brought about the shutdown of the government on some kind of a vague promise that he was gonna be able to take Obamacare out of the budget or to end Obamacare.
Surely, it is possible for grown adult men to have a difference of opinion over tactics. You might think that fighting over Obamacare was a losing proposition, but you might also think that it would have been worth some political points to stand up for a principle and to force an Obama veto.
Forget the arguments. Forget the substantive disagreement over tactics and strategy. Forget it all. These men are allowing their emotions to overthrow their rational faculties. They have certainly commanded the news cycle, but they look like indecorous and disloyal loudmouths. Worse yet, they look like they have no self-discipline
At the least, they are showing that the Republican Party is divided against itself. They are showing that they do not hold to the virtue of party loyalty and do not know how to control their mouths. If you cannot govern your mouth how can anyone entrust you with governing the country.
As I said, in the bad old days, Republicans had some manners. They did not speak ill about their fellow Republicans. They did not divide the party over issues of personal pique. They did not try to destroy each other.
The least we can say is that the Grand Old Party has not been doing very well in the polls. Its reputation has declined markedly over the past several months. Politicians might not care about it, but we should not ignore these new polls, reported by Eric Levitz in New York Magazine:
Back in October, Pew found 37 percent of the country viewed the GOP favorably, while 58 percent saw it in a negative light. Today, those numbers are 33 and 62, respectively. That downturn is driven almost entirely by Republicans souring on their own party: In the current poll, 68 percent of red America views the GOP favorably, down from 79 percent last fall.
Trump is doubtlessly responsible for much of that dip. The GOP front-runner has alienated Republicans who don’t like menstruation jokes and anti-trade populism, while simultaneously encouraging those who do like those things to see the party as a corrupt institution hell-bent on defying their will.
Meanwhile, 61 percent of Hispanics and 79 percent of African-Americans have a negative view of the Party of Lincoln, while majorities in both groups approve of Democrats. Even white people are losing their taste for elephant, with 58 percent giving the GOP a thumbs-down. The party’s friendliest audience is whites without college degrees — and 52 percent of them don’t like Republicans.
It doesn’t seem like a formula for victory, but, what do I know. The Republicans still have Hillary to unify them, and the populace does not much like the Democrats either:
America isn’t crazy about Democrats either. Half of the country views Team Blue unfavorably, while 45 percent approve. And a full quarter of the American public says, “A pox on both their houses.”
Still, Republicans are in a much worse place than their friends across the aisle. The last time 62 percent of the country disliked the GOP was 1992. Oddly enough, that was also the last time a (non-incumbent) Democrat named Clinton won the White House.
Or else, as Ross Douthat puts it:
No Republican (or Democratic) primary in generations has produced a nominee with anything like Trump’s unfavorable ratings or long general-election odds, and you would think the combination of eight years of Obama and the hated Hillary waiting in the wings would have concentrated voters’ minds on that, ah, problematic aspect of Trump’s candidacy.
But, he continues, most Republicans, following the lead of Rush Limbaugh, have now convinced themselves that Trump is the most electable candidate.
Douthat addresses the argument, proposed by Will Rahn, that Trump has a good chance to win because his policies are moderate and non-ideological. If the American electorate is fed up with ideologues, he might be just the antidote.
Hillary’s weak points aside, Trump also has one main advantage, which is that he’d be probably the most moderate nominee in decades. Now, Trump is not normally what we think of when we think of moderates – “reactionary moderate” is perhaps the best term to describe him. But border walls and Muslim bans aside, Trump really most closely resembles an old-school northeastern centrist Republican.
Trump likes the welfare state. He’s made protecting entitlements central to his pitch. It’s safe to say that he’s likely, at heart, socially liberal — the story of how he became anti-abortion, for example, doesn’t make a great deal of sense. … And given the milieu he’s always existed in, it’s hard to believe he really opposes gay marriage, either.
Rahn added that Trump has done well to avoid taking positions on policy issues, because that gives him more flexibility. But, we do not know whether Trump can stand up in an extended one-on-one debate over policy and history.
Of course, many Republicans believe that nominating a moderate candidate is a very bad idea. That being the caveat, we note Douthat’s point, namely that many people who hold moderate viewpoints will not vote for Trump because they viscerally do not like Trump, as a human being. As you know, we do not vote for ideas; we vote for people. And we rarely vote for people we do not respect and do not like:
… this logic lacks the cultural imagination required to see that Trump’s positions won’t get a hearing with groups that might find them appealing otherwise, precisely because they’re associated with, well, Donald Trump himself.
Are there Hispanic swing voters who would vote for a Republican who promised to protect entitlements and avoid messy foreign wars? Sure. Are there upper-middle-class white women who would vote for a Republican who seemed to be friendly to gay rights and favorably disposed to Planned Parenthood? No doubt. Are there African-American voters who would support a candidate who wants to renegotiate trade deals, limit low-skilled immigration and spend more money on U.S. infrastructure? I’m certain there are.
But will any of these constituencies vote for Donald Trump? For Trump the rank misogynist, Trump the KKK-flirter, Trump the deport-the-Mexican-rapists candidate? If you read seven of Trump’s positions to the median Hispanic voter, they might agree with five or six of them … but Trump’s favorability/unfavorability ratings with Hispanics are 12/77. If you go back to last August, before the campaign began, Trump had a 20 percent favorable rating with African-Americans; by Republican standards that’s not terrible. Six months of race-baiting later, he’s winning 5 percent of the black vote against Hillary Clinton. And women … well, he’s losing women, let’s put it that way, on a scale that no Republican nominee ever has before.
Good luck with all that.