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Posted by on Aug 21, 2015 in At TMV | 22 comments

Ornstein: Why GOP History May Not Repeat Itself with Trump

Norm Ornstein explains why Donald Trump may not be 2016’s Cain, Bachman or Gingrich in The Atlantic.

Still, I am more skeptical of the usual historical skepticism than I have been in a long time. A part of my skepticism flows from my decades inside the belly of the congressional beast. I have seen the Republican Party go from being a center-right party, with a solid minority of true centrists, to a right-right party, with a dwindling share of center-rightists, to a right-radical party, with no centrists in the House and a handful in the Senate. There is a party center that two decades ago would have been considered the bedrock right, and a new right that is off the old charts. And I have seen a GOP Congress in which the establishment, itself very conservative, has lost the battle to co-opt the Tea Party radicals, and itself has been largely co-opted or, at minimum, cowed by them.


Of course, this phenomenon is not new in 2015. It was there in 1964, building over decades in which insurgent conservative forces led by Robert Taft were repeatedly thwarted by moderates like Tom Dewey and Wendell Wilkie, until they prevailed behind the banner of Barry Goldwater. It was present in 1976, when insurgent conservative Ronald Reagan almost knocked off Gerald Ford before prevailing in 1980 (and then governing more as a pragmatist than an ideologue). It built to 1994, when Newt Gingrich led a huge class of insurgents to victory in mid-term elections, but then they had to accept pragmatist-establishment leader Bob Dole as their presidential candidate in 1996. And while John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 were establishment figures, each had to veer sharply to the radical right side to win nominations; McCain, facing a possible revolt at his nominating convention if he went with his first choice for running mate, Joe Lieberman, instead bowed to the new right and picked Sarah Palin.

Second, the views of rank-and-file Republicans on defining issues like immigration have become more consistently extreme—a majority now agree with virtually every element of Trump’s program, including expelling all illegal immigrants.


Third, unlike in 2012, when Mitt Romney was the clear frontrunner and the only serious establishment presidential candidate, and all the pretenders were focused on destroying each other to emerge as his sole rival, this time there are multiple establishment candidates with no frontrunner, including Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Chris Christie. And each has independent financing, with enough backing from wealthy patrons to stay in the race for a long time, splitting the establishment-oriented vote.
The financing, of course, raises point four: We are in a brave new world of campaign finance, where no one candidate can swamp the others by dominating the money race. When establishment nemesis Ted Cruz announced his campaign, he had $38 million in “independent” funds within a week, $36 million of it from four donors. There is likely more where that came from. Some candidates may not find any sugar daddies, or may find that their billionaires are fickle at the first sign of weakness. But far more candidates than usual will have the financial wherewithal to stick around—and the more candidates stick around, the less likely that any single one will pull into a commanding lead or sweep a series of primaries, and thus the more reason to stick around. 

Fifth, the desire for an insurgent, non-establishment figure is deeper and broader than in the past. Consider that in the first major poll taken after the GOP debate, three insurgents topped the list, totaling 47 percent, with Donald Trump leading the way, followed by Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. And, as Trump and the insurgents have shown depth and breadth of support, desperate wannabes like Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal have become ever more shrill to try to compete. Walker, for example, trashed Republican leaders in Congress for breaking their promise to repeal Obamacare. Walker’s right wing alternative health plan, meanwhile, was trashed by Jindal for being too liberal. And the parade of candidates lining up behind blowing up birthright citizenship has been remarkable.

Sixth, Donald Trump, a far more savvy candidate than, say, Herman Cain, has benefited from the anger in the conservative and Republican base electorate by running a pugnacious, in-your-face, I-am not-anything-like-these-other-clowns race, with his signature position being his extreme, nativist stance on immigration. His adherents have cared little about his positions on other issues; after all, Romney, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell, et al. promised them everything and produced nothing. So Ann Coulter, a Trump cheerleader, commented that she would be fine with Trump “perform[ing] abortions in the White House,” given his immigration stance, while other supporters have ignored any dissonance between Trump’s views and their own. Trump has also been the beneficiary of an almost-worshipful press thrilled with his perpetual-motion quote machine, which covers every press conference or town hall, often live on television, and rarely challenges his comments, feasting on every outrageous statement or attack against another candidate or critic. And the blanket press coverage has meant that Trump has not had to spend a dime of his fortune on political ads.

Cross-posted from The Sensible Center

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  • JSpencer

    The Republican party has gone insane, and most of the MSM seems not to mind in the least. Welcome to the Idiocracy.

    • SteveK

      Sure glad I’m old(er) with kids that are old(er) and grandkids that are optimistic. I’m leaving it to them (the grandkids) to work all this out… And they will.

      Just as our parents worried about how we would get by their parents worried about them. That’s what happens… That’s life.

      The new ‘kids’ will do O.K… In the mean time vote Democrat! My voting for Nixon and Reagan twice didn’t help ‘We the People’ at all.

    • Slamfu

      Why would the MSM mind? It makes for great TV. If anything they are strongly incentivized to promote it.

  • We are in a brave new world of campaign finance

    “Brave new world” is much too positive a term (and I’ve read and even written a college term paper on the book). How about “horror show” or “waking nightmare?”

    • JSpencer

      I vote for “waking nightmare”. Somebody must be loving it though…

    • dduck12

      I vote for sinking Democracy, rising Oligarchy. .

  • interguru

    I do not think Trump is going anywhere, but if you listen to his rhetoric and substitute “jews” for “mexicans” it sounds like Europe in the 1920s.

    I realize that I am flirting with Goodwin’s Law, but there is a resemblance. Or a nicer level he sounds like a mashup of Putin, Berlusconi and Juan Peron.

    I worry about a more skilled future incarnation of Trump.

    • DdW

      I worry about a more skilled future incarnation of Trump.

      Amen, Interguru.

      Added: Ted Cruz could be “it,” especially if you throw McCarthy into your “mashup.”

      • dduck12

        Not even close. Trump, projects a big brash persona, a P.T. Barnum, a person with big ideas, correct or incorrect. Cruz is as you point out a Joe McCarthy with narrow ideas and a small sleazy persona.

        • DdW


          I’ll stick with Interguru’s concern for “a more skilled future incarnation of Trump.”

    • Sal Monela

      Trump isn’t another Hitler, but there are some creepy parallels between the current anti immigrant outbreak and the European Far Right of the 20’s and 30’s.

      • dduck12

        A reach.

      • The_Ohioan

        It needs watching. The homeless man that was attacked is the soft target these bozos look for. It’s just a breeze in the air now, but if it get official sanction could become a hurricane. We can’t let that happen.

        It’s not like it isn’t happening in minority communities already by local authorities.

        • dduck12

          A reach. Homeless men have been attacked for decades before Trump, and I witnessed it.

          • The_Ohioan

            My mistake. I understood these two guys picked on a Hispanic homeless man because he was Hispanic and because Trump said all illegals, who he thinks are mostly Hispanic, should be deported – not because he was just any old homeless guy they decided to pick on.

            It’s the targeting of a particular minority that needs watching whether it’s the police or good old boys. When it becomes a national official sanction we call it fascism.

          • dduck12

            No mistake, I am merely pointing out what has happens to often, mostly in big cities. To conflate Trump with this attack, which we can’t prove might not have happened any way. You, I and others here, don’t like Trump, I get it, but one unfortunate incident does not warrant extrapolation, Nazi, or not.
            BTW, do we think people on welfare and other help programs are influenced by progressives like Sanders and Hillary to not try to lift themselves up, one could conflate that. Do we think any one is encouraged to attack white people by Al Sharpton or by rioters hollering burn this b_____ down.
            Most homeless people are attacked first of all because they are homeless, not because of their race or national origin.

          • The_Ohioan

            No, one incident does not a fascist country make. It’s only a marker to refer back to if things deteriorate. The men themselves conflated their action with Trump’s call to get rid of all illegal aliens. Can’t get any clearer than that. The fact that the victim was homeless is not important; the perps probably didn’t know or care if he was homeless or not. They probably had too much beer at the ball game and saw a Hispanic who looked like a pushover and attacked.

            No doubt there are some people on welfare who have no wish to live any other way. It’s a tough life, but they are willing to live small and endure the misery. Many have no choice because of age or disability, and most are the working poor. Not that any of that causes them to beat up on someone else because they think they are an illegal alien which is what these two guys did.

            If anyone is influenced by a political speaker to attack someone else, they fall into the same category and the speaker should be chastised and watched just like Trump should be chastised and watched. It’s not enough to just say “Stuff happens”.

          • dduck12

            Actually it is s_____ happens and reporting what is in the news and that I have personally seen. But this is all just noise, my problem is that if you don’t like someone, put him in the same box as a bad person, living or dead, or an event and spin away until the abhorrent color and smell attach to the victim. I’m not saying you do that, but some do do it.

          • The_Ohioan

            No spinning. Just watching closely. It’s easier to happen than most people think, I’m afraid. You do well to be skeptical, but don’t be oblivious. I’m as sure of you as I am of anyone that you won’t.

            Some creepy parallels:


            Note the exaggeration by Trump’s spokesman about the number that attended the rally. Newspeak.

          • dduck12

            Reiterating something: I am NOT for Trump. I am against him!

            So, citing the stuff he or his people say doesn’t mean much to me. What does bother me I have stated above.Whether the Reps are unfairly calling Sanders a commie or Trump a Nazi, it is wrong, as is Hillary a felon, at this point.
            BTW, Trump had a German father, has blond hair that looks strangely like a helmet. He looks like a poster child for the Nazi party.

            Parallels again.

          • The_Ohioan

            LOL He can’t help his looks. I suppose someone has photo shopped him into a Nazi uniform (like poor Debbie W.S.) that we haven’t seen yet. And no one is calling him a Nazi, only pointing out the similarities in the population’s response to a bombastic leader.

            But he can help what he says and I don’t think it’s unfair to point out that people all through history have used loose talk to cause a minority to be persecuted. One of the reasons pre-Nazi Germany often comes to mind is that Germany was a Christian, educated population, like ours, which got led astray due in part to their economic distress following WW I and the depression.

            It’s not like Rwanda and Pol Pot and ISIS where the ignorant are led by the ignorant into folly. Although I suppose you could make a good argument that our population is neither so Christian nor so educated as all that. 🙂 You are right to caution us to tread lightly with comparisons. Pointing out the possibilities if this continues is also right, AFIC.

          • dduck12

            I give up, enjoy your day.

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