Fortunately, we have a rich cultural vocabulary we can use to discuss the 2016 Republican nomination contest. Back in January, I wondered if the Republican “establishment” – whatever that means anymore – would be able to chase down their Frankenstein’s monster. With Ted Cruz dropping out after getting clobbered in Indiana yesterday and Donald Trump’s victory now inevitable, we’re at the “Iceberg right ahead!” stage of the process. They can turn the ship’s wheel as hard as they want and shut down the engines, but it’s too late – the iceberg is right there, and there’s no avoiding it now.
Donald Trump is a disaster for the Republican Party, and frankly, it’s been a long time coming. As Josh Marshall explains, the Republican Party has been building up a mountain of “nonsense debt” and “hate debt” for decades and Trump is that debt come due. Having built a movement around obvious claptrap such as the working classes pay no taxes, African Americans just want free stuff, Obamacare is setting up death panels in order to kill useless grandmas, Obamacare is making us give sluts free birth control, the IRS is targeting conservative groups, legalizing gay marriage means conservatives have to preside over gay marriages, Democrats are coming for our guns, immigration is destroying the country, and so on, no wonder a misogynist, racist know-nothing has emerged as the democratically elected leader of that movement.
Staff at FiveThirtyEight did a preliminary autopsy of the #NeverTrump movement and find that in retrospect, there just weren’t many good options for derailing a front-running Trump. Marco Rubio seemed like a plausible candidate the establishment could rally around, but then Chris Christie made a fool of him in New Hampshire and Rubio couldn’t even carry his home state of Florida. Nobody ever knew or cared who John Kasich was. Jeb Bush had all the money in the world but was the brother of a man who belongs on Mount Failmore. A total of 17 candidates ran for the nomination, representative of a supposedly deep Republican bench, but none of them knew how to play the game Trump was playing. Ted Cruz won in Wisconsin, giving hope to NeverTrumpers, only to find that increased publicity meant most Republican voters came to the same conclusion as former Speaker John Boehner: Cruz is “Lucifer in the flesh.”
So, what does Trump’s victory mean for the general election? In the modern U.S., with its polarized electorate overwhelmingly attached to one or the other of two ideologically coherent parties, we can’t count Trump out completely. Most Republicans, establishment-types and the base, are likely to stand by Trump or at least not bash him, and vote for him in November. Last August, when I first predicted that Trump would win the nomination, I wrote that Trump would have a 30 to 40% chance of winning the general election. At the moment the betting markets put his chances at the low end of that range. This isn’t tooting my own horn as much as it is to say that Trump, though a historically weak nominee, can still win. (Okay, it’s a little bit of tooting my own horn.)
Much more likely than a Trump general election victory is the Trumptanic scenario. The Democratic Party has many advantages heading into the 2016 general election irrespective of the identity of the Republican opponent. Now we know the Democrat (still overwhelmingly likely to be Hillary Clinton) will face Trump, who enjoys unheard of disapproval ratings from women and minority groups. Female voters tend to make up a significant majority of general election voters. If that holds and Democrats can get minority groups out to vote – basically, recreate the Obama coalition – we’ll be looking at a landslide in which Democrats hold the presidency and take back the Senate.
To quote Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack, “This is bad.”
And with that, here’s the Bob Dylan song that inspired the title to this post: