It’s time for Republicans to dispense with the wishful thinking. For all the hype about Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, for all the breathless calls to narrow the field, Super Tuesday is in less than a week and Donald Trump is dominant. He has won three out of the four early contests by wide margins, and even though Cruz technically beat him in Iowa, he earned 8 delegates and Trump earned 7. Not exactly a huge difference there.
New Hampshire was a fluke, we told ourselves. It’s just that Trump appeals to Northeastern moderates given his New York City background. Cruz was able to hold Trump back, even if slightly in evangelical Iowa, so he should be able to do the same in South Carolina, right? And Rubio grew up in Nevada. Surely his connections there and his appeal to Latinos will help him, no? We were wrong. And I fear we will continue to be.
There are no more excuses to be made. No more hypotheticals to be formulated. Jeb Bush spent $150 million, failed to crack into the top three, and dropped out after the third contest. Rubio was endorsed by South Carolina’s Gov. Haley, Sen. Scott and Rep. Gowdy. Cruz is the self-described savior of evangelicals, many of whom populate South Carolina’s rural counties. Yet Trump blew both senators out of the water in a state where it was said they could hold him back.
Super Tuesday is around the corner and polling shows Trump, once again, dominating. He’s even close to giving Cruz a run for his money in his home state of Texas, where the near entirety of the state’s political machine backs him. We can no longer tell ourselves that the polls overestimate Trump’s support, that his backers aren’t motivated or that he has no ground game. Conventional wisdom has been tossed aside in nearly every possible fashion this cycle. It’s time to face the music.
We are staring at the very real possibility of a vulgar, narcissistic, Obamacare-loving, Planned Parenthood-supporting, anti-trade, conspiracy-peddling, authoritarian demagogue as the Republican nominee. Realistically, what happens next? Some grassroots libertarians and conservatives, though they disagree with Trump’s policies, believe the Republican Party brought this schadenfreude upon itself and welcome what they see as a necessary destructive force. I wish I agreed with this outlook because I could then convince myself that something good could arise from the ashes. But I just don’t see it that way.
Hours prior to the Nevada caucus, I wrote a piece at directed toward the libertarians who have embraced the aforementioned operation chaos theory. While I appreciate that they believe a fractured Republican Party could clear a path for much needed liberty leaders, I can’t imagine circumstances heading in that direction. Rather, I tend to believe that Trump would pull the Republican Party further to the left than its establishment already is and that it would stay there for the foreseeable future.
As I explained, “Donald Trump as president will not usher in some kind of radical change. He will govern as he’s running: A left-wing narcissist with a disturbing record of racist and misogynistic commentary … If Trump were to … become president, we would simply have two Democratic parties: One focused on big government and identity politics for people of color and women, the other, on big government and identity politics for angry, white working class men … Donald Trump would basically be Hillary Clinton with an even bigger ego. Not to mention Trump’s fringe white nationalist supporters, who mimic their leader’s penchant for insulting anyone who dares to dissent, would be emboldened.”
Perhaps it’s true, as Conor Friedersdorf wrote at The Atlantic, that a portion of the Republican base could mount a third party challenge to Trump if he’s the nominee. As he wrote, “It is hard to imagine any die-hard Bush loyalists supporting Trump after his attacks on Jeb and George. Indeed, it is easy to imagine them delighting in denying Trump the White House. Putting them altogether, that’s quite a diverse anti-Trump coalition.”
Added Friedersdorf, “If Trump wins, there will be a lot of establishment campaign professionals who’d benefit financially from a third-party challenge by a movement conservative (and who wouldn’t fear being branded disloyal for staffing one).” He also notes that this type of scenario might help down-ballot Republicans who would suffer if conservative voters stayed home absent a decent presidential choice.
But where exactly does that leave libertarians and conservatives who oppose both the welfare-warfare state mentality of the Bush era and Trump’s racially-animated left-wing economics? In my view, even further behind than we were in the darkness of the post-9/11 era. If our choices are Trump’s borderline fascist Republican Party and a Bush establishment alternative, that doesn’t exactly sound appealing. Some might argue that this fracturing leaves room for a Libertarian Party candidate to make a splash. Maybe? But I don’t think it’s likely.
In my view, this cycle has unfortunately proven that there’s little to no appetite for that message on a presidential scale right now. Trump sucked up nearly all of Rand Paul’s oxygen. What makes libertarians think the populace wants to listen to Gary Johnson talk about marijuana policy? We have Bernie Sanders for that. And frankly, evidence shows that a lot of left-libertarians, who care primarily about social and foreign policy issues, are already in his camp. When Sanders loses to Hillary, those types most likely won’t vote at all.
Call me crazy, but for a libertarian, I’m just not that much of a radical. I prefer watching Rand Paul and Justin Amash influence the Republican Party from the inside, working for change in an institutional context. I know that’s not sexy enough for people who want to wield torches and pitchforks, but I think there’s evidence that it’s working – even if the voting populace is busy embracing a demagogue on a presidential level. I fear that with Trump as the GOP nominee, Republicans will lose the Senate handily, and that even the House could be in jeopardy.
I just see very little good coming out of a Trump nomination, but we do have to start bracing for the reality. I hope my libertarians friends who think the chaos will ultimately help us are right that something good can come of this. But I tend to think Trump will do nothing but irreparably damage the Republican brand for decades to come, and we’ll get eight years of Hillary – likely without being able to retain our congressional majority; the one thing that would make her even vaguely tolerable as president. Nevertheless, it’s time to strap in and face the facts. The Trump train might have no brakes. And we’re in for a bumpy ride.