As Hillary Clinton was capably delivering her platitudinous speech on Thursday, my mind kept drifting back to a familiar question: Has there ever been a more consequential act of political suicide in modern American history than the one the GOP just pulled off? Because I doubt it.
While Hillary was telling America how the “the sky’s the limit,” I was thinking how beating her could have meant two (or three, or whatever the number ends up being) new originalist justices for the SCOTUS. Even if a RINO Republican president batted .500 on his court picks for the next eight years, it would still likely be good enough to solidify conservative positions on a number of big questions.
While Hillary was overstating her work on behalf of American children, I kept thinking that after eight years of national discourse defined by progressives, conservatives had a chance to alter the debate by beating one the most unlikable, ethically compromised, uninspiring, ideologically expedient candidates in memory. They had a group of qualified choices encompassing many philosophical dispositions and political temperaments.
But they rallied around the least serious, least conservative, least competent candidate they could find. They were driven by legitimate grievances. (Because guess what? In a democratic country, you can’t always get what you want.) But mostly they were animated by identity politics, class anger, and a myth that the GOP is worthless.
As I listened to Barack Obama’s speech the other night, I noticed he didn’t have any domestic accomplishments to brag about after 2010. Republicans had stopped him and collected more than 900 state-level seats and swept both houses of Congress in two wave elections that brought more limited-government Republicans to Washington than have been here in our lifetime. But because voters demand purity, and politicians keep promising and failing to deliver it, the entire project felt like failure. So primary voters blew it all up.
When I was listening to Clinton speak, I was thinking, “She’s definitely no Bill Clinton.” She’s also no Barack Obama or even Michelle Obama. But all that matters is that she’s no Donald Trump. In a conventional year, Clinton would have had to persuade the electorate to trust her more than the governor or senator running against her. Today, she merely has to appear more competent than Trump. As liberal pollster Mark Mellman told John Harwood, Hillary really doesn’t have to increase her favorables dramatically, she just needs to cross the acceptability threshold with independents who find Trump unacceptable. Considering her unethical and reckless behavior, it’s baffling that the rival party would draft someone less trustworthy. The DNC reminded us that they did.
The DNC also reminded us that conservatives didn’t only likely give away this election (there’ll be many more of those) but that they’ve already lost something with Trump.
The Democrats put on a pretty solid convention, with memorable moments from both big names and average citizens. There were cops, moms, soldiers, and business people praising traditional American institutions like they’re rock-ribbed Republicans. But think about this: At a convention where an old-school socialist was celebrated in nearly every speech, the hard-left ideas of the Progressive Movement were wrapped in Reaganesque rhetorical flourishes and sold as American idealism. Don’t get me wrong, these people can still fearmonger with the best of them on guns, global warming, etc. — but Trump’s austere worldview and pessimism gave Democrats ownership of ideas about exceptionalism, meritocracy, and national optimism.
This is because Democrats understand incrementalism and the long game in a way conservatives don’t seem to. They pass Obamacare. They wait out the storm. They contend that fixing Obamacare’s variety of problems can only be accomplished with more liberal policy. Move forward; push for more whenever the nation’s climate allows it. If not, they’ll be happy to appropriate whatever political vernacular allows them to retain their gains. Conservatives act like every stalemate is a bitter defeat and every small victory is useless. And here they are.