Monday, February 29, 2016
By Reed Galen
Quote by a Smart Person: “And if a house be divided, that house cannot stand.” Jesus Christ –Gospel of Mark 3:25
Welcome to the American Singularity.
This week, after seven months of denial, scorn, bargaining and anger, the Establishment wing of the Republican party final found acceptance that Donald Trump is a real threat to win the GOP nomination for President. The delay in realizing that Trump was a force with which to be reckon was near-universal. I myself wrote a mocking and scornful post on The Donald’s announcement fully believing my own instincts that he would surely self-destruct; falling in spectacular blaze of egotism, hubris and celebrity.
No such luck.
I’m currently reading The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by the late Oliver Sacks, a preeminent neurologist of his day. Sacks’ book is filled with fascinating and often heartbreaking stories of extremely rare neurological disorders. In one, a woman admitted for relatively minor surgery suffers a viral infection of her spinal cord. It robs her of her proprioception: the system by which the brain recognizes the body itself, its relative position and the automatic ability to right itself (if you’ve ever almost fallen over, proprioception automatically tries to get you upright.)
The Republican Party has lost its proprioception. We’ve seen symptoms now for years, but either refused to acknowledge them or figured if we ignored them long enough they would go away. Now as the GOP inexorably loses its footing, the Establishment is throwing every last idea it has into retaining its sense of self and stopping the infection (and defections.) The treatments aren’t new or innovative, however. Like a doctor who’s out of ideas and unaware of anything new, we’re back to television ads, snarky press releases and Twitter wars to try and stop Donald Trump’s rise.
For years, the big state and moderate Republicans were the antidote to whatever outlier Iowa chose during the Caucuses. New Hampshire served as course corrector. South Carolina as arbiter of the presumptive nominee. They’re not saving our bacon this time. As we stand just over 24 hours away from a dozen states voting, it might be that the viral damage to the party is done. If Tuesday goes to Trump, it will be because there aren’t establishment voters to serve as white blood cells this time around.
The Party as Cause
Among the various arguments being made is that to stop Donald Trump is to save the Republican Party. I spent my entire childhood immersed in Republican politics and most of my adult life as a practitioner of it. Even with that said, I consider myself many things - husband, father and friend long before I self-identify as a Republican. I don't have a membership card nor have I ever given money to a party organ. The idea that many voters; any voters would be convinced to defect from Trump’s campaign to save the GOP seems wishful thinking at best. Most voters, even Republican ones, don’t see themselves as members of a party. An “R” or a “D” behind a candidate’s name is a signal, an identifier, a qualifier that they are more generally in line with a way of thinking or an ideology, perhaps one with which that voter agrees.
And for the GOP hierarchy, making this argument may actually be counterproductive. If you’re trying to convince the relatively small number of voters who participate in primary elections that they need to save the Party, they may already believe that Donald Trump is the answer. Far from believing Trump is the destroyer of the Republican world, they probably believe the party is a twisted and unrecognizable form of itself – one they deem unworthy of maintaining.
Whether or not Trump is the Republican nominee this fall, he has succeeded in ensuring his remaining opponents are adapting to his brand of politics. Watching the GOP debate in Houston on Thursday night, Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz traded volleys as fast as they could reload. At one point the closed captioning actually read “Unintelligible Yelling.” It took the campaigns seven months to figure it – and only in desperation have they realized that to take on Trump you must be willing to climb down to his rhetorical level – often about seven feet below the gutter.
Marco Rubio has run with this strategy. He now openly mocks The Donald and makes many of the same types of cracks that only a week ago we all disavowed. Whether this tack will work electorally remains to be seen but its work tactically. The sillier the thing Rubio says about Trump, the more cable news and social media lights up about it. However, even if Rubio or Cruz are able to somehow wrest the nomination away, what type of damage will our candidate have done to themselves in the process? We may eventually beat Donald, but we will carry the dirt, the stink and the scars with us into the future.