Republican Party Chaos & Third Party Prospects


The Trump revolution revved up last night with the Donald’s Super Tuesday victories. As a consequence, the so-called Republican “establishment” is in a tizzy. They are revealed to be “even more incompetent” than was first believed. As of today, they are “waging war on their own base.” In other words, we are witnessing the Great Republican Crack-up.

Never mind that there continues to be—in the Republican base—many who consider the Trump insurrection to be scandalous. They voted for one or the other of the non-Trump candidates last night. And there were a lot of them. And now, some of them threaten to vote for anyone but Trump. This escapes the attention of the media.

There have been calls for a third party for quite some time. Experiments that have been tried have been conspicuous failures. (The Libertarian party, for example, has melded with the Republican party to the point that libertarian politicians who aspire to the presidency pledge allegiance to the Republican party—most recently, Ron Paul.) The “Tea Party” wasn’t really a party. It was a remarkably organized, but still unofficial, movement within the Republican party, which fizzled out when Obama came to power in the executive branch of government and Republicans “took control” of both houses of Congress. “Tea partiers” pinned their hopes on the Republicans “they” had elected—by the thinnest of margins in the Senate—and have been so angered by their “passivity” (if not outright betrayal) that it’s now time for a revolution. Donald Trump recognized an opportunity to exploit this angst and finagle his way into the Republican party and, he hopes and believes, into the Oval Office.

Seeds of the Trump revolution were sown in the Republican party among some elements within its base. As just noted, Trump’s numbers on Super Tuesday came from a minority of Republican voters. In addition, an astonishing number of voters turned out in states like Virginia. Some say they turned out for Trump. But it has to be said that if they hadn’t turned out in such numbers, then Trump would not have done as well, and neither would the other candidates.

So what’s with all this talk about disenfranchising “the base” by the “establishment’s” effort to upset the Trump momentum? Why are those who support Trump considered the base while those who do not support Trump are not considered part of the base? This Trump-friendly narrative, perpetuated by the media (from Fox, to CNN, to MSNBC), is flat-out false.

But the narrative is powerful. And it compounds confusion about the crisis now facing the Republican party.

So where are we headed? The short-term worry is that Hilary Clinton wins regardless of what the party does about Trump. If they back Trump, while pinching their noses, they still fear a Clinton victory. If they find some way to edge Trump off-stage, the worry is that the Trump devotees will revolt, and that Trump may even sabotage the party by running as an Independent. Again, Hilary wins.

This short-term worry may be short-sighted. We may be witnessing the “crack-up” of a venerable party that is resolved with the painful and torturous emergence of a third party. But whose party would a third party be? Would the Republican “establishment” be forced out? Or would Trump emerge as the leader of a new party? Neither scenario would happen quickly. And neither is especially appealing, from any point of view (unless you’re a devoted Democrat voter).

Suppose “establishment Republicans” seek to force Trump and his revolutionaries out of the party. Trump may win in this election cycle. (Or he may lose to Clinton.) But they would get their party back, and that would be good news to the party faithful in the base who have never taken to Trump. All things considered, this could be a temporary setback for the party. It would be a shock. It would be an unwelcome consequence of Trump’s shenanigans. But it could have healthy consequences long-term.

Suppose Trump and his cadre attempt a full-on “hostile takeover” of the party that forces the “establishment” out of the party, or completely neutralizes their influence within the party. This doesn’t look like a promising move. Could Trump mount that level of an insurrection so single-handedly? Would he be able to keep the likes of Chris Christie and Jeff Sessions at his side if Trump were to go this far? Maybe. But so what? It’s doubtful that all the Republican politicians who have “endorsed” Trump in this cycle would be enthusiastic about a Trump party (the “Trumpist Party” or an American “Labor Party”?). That would really be sticking their neck out. And it goes against the survival instincts of most politicians. (Christie may have nothing to lose at this point.)

One big worry on either scenario is that the Democrat party would benefit by a parting of the ways. Set that aside for the time being. How and when could the so-called establishment effect an ouster of the Trump interlopers? They could try (as they seem intent on doing) to get the nomination for a non-Trump choice. Failing that, they could attempt some unprecedented maneuver during the Republican convention to seize the nomination from Trump.

Here’s another option: Turn Trump loose and let him sink or swim in the general election, with or without their vote, and wager that if Trump—by hook or by crook—wins the election, it will be a failed presidency that barely survives a full term. There is good reason to think that Trump cannot fulfill the specific promises that will get him the nomination. He may not even intend to. If you think his supporters are angry now, imagine their ire if Trump lets them down or turns on them. They might well pull a Trump on Trump and abandon him as soon as they have no further use for him. Could he get re-elected? (I have uncharacteristically staked a bet with a friend who likes Trump that Trump will not have a wall built on the Mexican border by the end of his second year, fully paid for by Mexico. I think the odds are heavily in my favor.)

This scenario may be preferable to a Clinton presidency that could go for eight years. But could it happen if the true Republicans (yes, that’s what I called them) stand on the sidelines and let Trump get elected on his own steam? Does Trump need the establishment—which may need Trump, so they can get their party back?

This option puts the eventual emergence of a third party in doubt. But it also leaves presently unanswerable questions about long-term grassroots support for the Republican party. The ascendancy of the Democrat party may be ensured by the crisis, at just the time when the party was poised to seize control from Democrats. And nobody in the Republican base wants that.

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Whose Capitalism?


Mitt Romney doesn’t need to defend capitalism. He needs to defend his version of capitalism. This is the essence of Newt Gingrich’s challenge to Romney in recent days.

Newt has been slapped down, once again, by establishment Republicans who believe that Newt is “hurting the party” with his latest challenge to Romney. They’re saying that Romney will have a more difficult time beating Obama in the general election if his Republican opponents don’t quit what they’re doing.

The chief problem with this silly posturing is that Newt Gingrich, unlike the Republican establishment, simply does not accept their determination to nominate Mitt Romney. Why should Newt care whether establishment Republicans are coming unglued over his effort to put more pressure on their “favorite”? He aims to win the nomination, with or without their support. He wants to demonstrate that they’ve bet their money on the wrong horse.

Time will tell whether he succeeds.

But there is a deeper problem with the Republican backlash against Gingrich. And it has a couple of important components. Fundamentally, establishment Republicans are characterizing Newt’s challenge as an attack on capitalism, and they claim to resent this because Republican candidates for the presidency are supposed to fall in line with their version of capitalism. Their attack on Gingrich is simply disingenuous; they aren’t telling half the truth.

This is because Newt is at least as committed to capitalism as Mitt is. But Newt is suspicious of Mitt’s version of capitalism, according to which it’s fair for anyone to make a buck at anyone’s expense, by whatever means and with whatever effects, as long as it’s legal. An ethically sensitive—and morally sensible—capitalist should repudiate such an attitude.

Here’s the last line in Romney’s latest defensive campaign ad:

We expected the Obama administration to put free markets on trial, but as The Wall Street Journal said, “Mr. Romney’s GOP opponents . . . are embarrassing themselves” by taking the Obama line.

Wouldn’t you like to know who at The Wall Street Journal that said that, what kind of column it was, and whether this is the uniform attitude of everyone at the WSJ? And who cares what the WSJ says if they’re wrong? The WSJ should welcome a debate about the character and genius of capitalism and its several varieties. Newt Gingrich wants to have that debate, and he may get it at the next Republican presidential debate before the South Carolina primary.

It’s possible that Romney’s version of capitalism is as innocent as the wind-driven snow. But let him explain it without asserting that Newt is attacking the free market.

It’s also entirely possible that if Romney’s opponents among Republican candidates don’t quit what they’re doing, Romney won’t have to worry about facing Obama because Romney won’t be the Republican nominee. Of course, if that happens, there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth among Republican party fixtures.

I would be as happy to see that as I would be to witness a Lincoln-Douglas debate between Newt Gingrich and President Obama.

New Hamphire Is History; Now What?


It concerns me that Romney could win the nomination with a plurality and yet with actual support well below 50%. I’m skeptical about a victory over Obama under these conditions.

I notice that some 77% of the entire vote in NH went to Romney-Paul-Huntsman. This suggests  that NH, which sends only a handful of delegates to the convention, is far from being even broadly conservative. This is not representative of the entire country.

So you might think that Romney, Paul, and Huntsman will not do so well in SC in less than two weeks.

But Romney’s more or less hollow victory may have a psychological effect in SC and beyond. People like to go with a perceived winner (the bandwagon effect). And Romney, I believe, is about to get very clever. So far, he’s been extremely careful not to appear too Conservative, and this has served him well.His immediate concern has been to court NH voters. With SC looming, I predict that he’ll begin to portray himself more overtly as much more conservative than people now think. Newt needs to be watching for this and pounce on it as further evidence of “pious baloney.”

Pundits were saying tonight that Newt’s rebound strategy for the past few days has backfired on him. I don’t think that, and I hope Newt doesn’t either. It’s silly to see a causal connection in the correlation between Newt’s low support in NH and his recent more vigorous response to Romney. Possibly, the pundits who represent the “establishment” are worried that Newt will continue to apply the pressure and thus mitigate Romney’s chances of winning in SC.

Romney delivered a great speech tonight. But close examination suggests that he is another cynical politician. The victory had only just been won and he was immediately starting to use Reagan-speak (i.e. “a city on a hill,” etc.). His strategy will be to try to convince conservatives that he’s a safe bet. So watch for him to roll out all the buzzwords and themes that resonate with true conservatives.

If Romney wins the nomination, and it very much looks tonight like it’s his to lose, it will be a sign that the Tea Party has lost traction, just when it needs to be boiling. Such a grassroots movement is very hard to sustain without a prominent leader beating the drums. So far, the movement’s most prominent spokesperson has held back. But look for Sarah Palin to back a candidate as we get closer to SC. It won’t be Romney. My hope is that she is conversing with SC state senators and representatives and persuading them to back a particular anti-Romney candidate. And I still hope that’s Gingrich.

Newt needs a string of strong sponsors whose support would (1) signal the continuing viability of an anti-Romney effort, and, crucially, (2) consolidate support for a single candidate who needs those votes. That candidate needs to be Gingrich.

I don’t know if any of the candidates will be able to beat Obama, but I have grave misgivings about Romney’s chances. Garnering a mere 37% showing in NH, of all places, indicates a real lack of enthusiasm. As it was, they’re saying that voter turnout was surprisingly low tonight. If we don’t have a candidate that people can get excited about, Obama will get a second term, and this could look more like a mandate than the last election!

I think we need to roll the dice for the only candidate who will keep things exciting and shake things up. I still think Gingrich is Obama’s biggest election worry. The president is probably feeling more confident as Romney’s cache expands. He can see that it isn’t expanding with support from an enthusiastic majority.

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