Sean Trende, one of the better political analysts out there, recently penned a piece of why a Trump candidacy and likely defeat wouldn’t harm the long-term prospects of the GOP. He provided a lot of great historical analysis, showing that a presidential victory usually hinges upon popular views of the incumbent president and the state of the economy. In the end, Trend notes, Trump is not a big deal.
While I appreciate his analysis, history and number-crunching only provides a partial picture (as Trende himself concedes). Sure, parties often emerge relatively unscathed after disastrous candidacies and presidencies (i.e. Watergate), but there are always second and third-order consequences. For example, we could ask what effect Watergate had on public trust up until the present day. Have Republicans experienced more than their share of that distrust because of Watergate?
Sure, a candidate Donald Trump might not doom the GOP in the ensuing elections, but how will his candidacy affect the Republican and conservative brands, the cohesion of the party, and the long-term prospects of the best and brightest GOP figures? Here are a few of the effects of the present “Trump and burn” candidacy:
- A great opportunity, denied. For years, mediocre politicians with virtually no eloquence were tasked with proposing, promoting and defending conservative policies and ideals. They usually failed. This was the year when a dozen principled, intelligent, and articulate conservatives would finally take the fight to the Left. Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina, for example, were able to flip the “abortion extremism” moniker onto Hillary Clinton. Instead of changing the national discussion, The Donald turned this key moment into a petty food fight. When will the GOP have another opportunity to press the case against a failed Obama presidency and present a full-throated alternative before the American people?
- The savaging of the greatest generation of conservative politicians. What is next for Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, or Marco Rubio? How about Chris Christie or Jeb Bush? Each of these men carries impressive records and the scars it took to achieve those records. Their accomplishments never received the limelight they deserved, and The Donald heaped scorn and abuse upon each of them as they were subsequently banished to the shadows. Barack Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize for doing nothing. The treatment of these accomplished politicians is sickening.
- Undermining the conservative cause. Conservatives have long known that the media is a minefield for them, though conservatism can and will prevail in the battleground of ideas. For years, they have made the case the entitlement reform won’t harm the elderly. Donald has declared that it would. Conservatives have argued that they are pro-life and pro-woman. Donald has pitted the two against each other. Even with divergent opinions on the Iraq War, conservatives have long ridiculed the absurd notion that “Bush lied; people died.” Donald parroted that old, heinous, discredited line of attack.
These last two effects are the most painful to bear for conservatives. In the military, there is a phrase used to describe what happens when one ally turns his weapon upon another: “Insider attack.” These events are some of the more damaging in war, as they breed distrust and undermine the cause from the inside. That is exactly what Donald Trump has done to the GOP and the conservative cause. It is one thing for Madison crazies to assail Scott Walker with vapid slogans, or for Democratic politicians or members of the media to accuse Republicans of a “war on women.” It is quite another for a fellow Republican to walk into the building and machine gun everything down.