One of the ever-present media-fed tropes in the electoral context is how the left always sees Republican campaigns who are obvious losers as honorable, and winning Republican campaigns as sinister. The smarter the GOP campaign, the more they are framed as villainous Machiavellians – the more they are doe-eyed fools, the more they receive the plaudits of being one of the good Republicans.
There is something similar going on right now within the context of the 2016 election. Political elites seem genuinely insulted and offended that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are conducting their campaigns so as to win. They think they can win and are trying to win and now might actually be in a position to do so. The two have been savvy and purposeful, and have in their own ways positioned themselves tactically and pursued tactics which benefit them, and the result has been the definitive capture of more than half of the party’s support on a national and state level scale – and the elites are offended by this in a way that boggles the mind.
This was not supposed to be the way things would happen. It was definitely not supposed to still be happening mere weeks before the voting starts. It was supposed to go away. But it hasn’t. Some writers are blaming the candidates, others the masses. The argument today comes from Michael Gerson – as fitting a messenger as I can imagine – that for the good of the Republican party, both Trump and Cruz must lose. His criticism of Trump is less harsh than his criticism of Cruz, who he describes as being a terrible Christian. Set that aside and think about this for just a minute: Gerson has been a champion for years of a more inclusive conservatism and a more welcoming Republican Party. But it’s clear that his brand of inclusive conservatism wants to exclude totally about a third or more of its supporters.
How can you brand yourself as inclusive if you don’t respect, if you don’t even want to share a cup of coffee with, a group of people whose tendency is naturally on your side of the political ledger? Wasn’t the whole conversation after 2012 about how the Republican Party needed to activate the white working class which underperformed for Mitt Romney in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Iowa? How can you advance an argument that these somewhat conservative, economically moderate, populist American nationalists who have grown disaffected with both parties are not a voting bloc that ought to be respected, just because they rejected someone like Scott Walker for two guys they actually think will fight for what they believe? Are their votes less valuable because they are not the people you wish to win with, or are they less valuable because their perspective is at odds with yours?
Over the course of the coming weeks, you’re going to hear more calls for Donald Trump’s nomination from the Republican elite. Their rationale is a simple one: they don’t believe he can possibly win, so they view him as a way for the people, in a cycle that has not gone the way they wanted at all, to expend their anger in a way that does not upset the status quo. Their hope is that after loaning the GOP to Trumpism for a few months, everyone will wake up in November with a “what did we just do” hangover, and then the established forces of leadership can reassert themselves.
This is a more dangerous play than the elites understand – in large part because Trump could actually win the presidency, but also because it underestimates the degree of anger and wrath in their own coalition. At the moment, national polls set 55% of the Republican and Republican-leaning vote as belonging to two candidates who both want to upset the apple cart in Washington – that type of frustration is not expended so easily. The path ahead for the elites leads inevitably to the conclusion that it is the country they ought to blame, and that the coalition of the right as it currently stands ought to die with dignity. “Would it not be easier/in that case for the government/To dissolve the people/And elect another?”