Trump nomination will not ‘destroy’ the party
by RUSS STEWART
The problem with political pundits is that they chronically suffer from the "Chicken Little Syndrome." One harebrained writer proclaims that the sky is falling, and everybody else hurriedly concurs and embellishes the fantasy.
The current lunacy is that Donald Trump’s nomination will "destroy" the Republican Party as we know it. That premise is not thought to be an exaggeration by history-challenged journalists, but rather an imminent reality. Not too many leftists will shed any tears, and all the timid Mother Hen Republicans are flapping their ponderous wings in horror, fearing than an anti-Trump wave will cost their party control of the U.S. Senate and House.
What rubbish. Remember James Carville, that overly pompous and underly prescient Democratic consultant? In 2008 he predicted a "generation" — meaning about 20 to 30 years — of national Democratic dominance after Barack Obama’s victory. It lasted for two years.
Every 8 to 12 years, like clockwork, the White House "ins" get ousted by the White House "outs," even if the "outs" were "destroyed" 8 to 12 years earlier. America’s two-party system is not going to be eradicated by a blowhard like Trump, any more than the Democratic Party was "destroyed" by the likes of George McGovern and Jimmy Carter.
In the country’s political history, only twice has a political party become extinct. The Federalists evaporated in 1812, when their monarchist, pro-British views became traitorous, and the Whigs evaporated after 1852, when their equivocation on slavery became intolerable. Both defunct parties were promptly replaced.
Unlike Europe’s unwieldy parliamentary system, which encourages factionalism and fringe parties by awarding seats based on each party’s national vote, America has always had a center-right and a center-left party, and any third party quickly collapses and is absorbed by one of the existing parties, which steals their agenda. The center-righters are the conservatives, who traditionally advocated less or limited government or state’s rights, and the center-leftists are the liberals, now calling themselves "progressives," who view every problem as solvable by government and who seek ever-expanding federal authority over every aspect of commercial and individual life.
Nothing has really changed in 227 years. Conservatives grow ever less conservative; their favorite refrain is not "they’re wrong," it’s "let’s wait for a while." Government grows ever bigger and costlier, and liberals grow ever more socialistic; their favorite refrain is "everything should be free" and "let the billionaires pay for it." The inimitable Bernie Sanders, a retread 1970s flower child, is a self-proclaimed socialist, having appeared on the ballot many times in Vermont as the "Socialist" candidate. He thinks the Democratic Party is too timid, too conservative and too capitalistic, and that a 90 percent income tax rate is just a start. Why aren’t the pundits proclaiming that Sanders will "destroy" the Democratic Party if he is nominated? Because they know he won’t be.
Of course, the fact that Hillary Clinton is on track to raise and spend $1 billion to beat Sanders and Trump is ignored. Won’t all those heavily donating special interests expect some payback during a Clinton presidency? They don’t expect anything for free. They’re making their down payment.
Republicans claim Trump is not a "real" conservative. What is that? The national debt has ballooned from $7 trillion in 2008, George Bush’s last year, to a projected $19 trillion in 2016, under Obama. More than $1 trillion of the $4 trillion-plus 2017 federal budget pays the debt interest. Congressional Republicans were complicit in this abomination — and they’re "conservative"?
The point is that even if Trump is disastrously crushed by Clinton, after 2 years of disastrous Clinton governance, an anti-Clinton center-right party, maybe even the Republicans, will be rejuvenated and be back in 2018, and likely will retake the presidency in 2020. Voters’ memories of past abominable rejected candidates are quickly superseded by voters’ perceptions of current incumbents’ abominable policies.
A look at history is illustrative:
1800: All politics is local, and the Adams-Jefferson presidential race laid the two-party system’s foundation, based on geography, ideology, heredity and aristocracy. John Adams was a New England Federalist, a Bostonian, a supporter of commerce with Britain and an advocate of expanded federal power. Thomas Jefferson was a Virginian, an agrarian, a state’s righter, a slaveholder and an aristocratic landholder. Jefferson won, largely by smearing Adams as a British puppet. The center-right won, and for 24 years Jefferson’s "Democratic-Republicans" dominated, with no center-left/Federalist candidate after 1812.
However, as always, factionalism surfaced. Jefferson negotiated the Louisiana Purchase, but all those westerners wanted roads, canals and harbors — "internal improvements" which only the federal government could provide. By 1824 a new two-party system arose, as the center-left, New England and the westerners, called "National Republicans," split with the center-right, Jeffersonian, agrarian and pro-slavery Southerners. John Quincy Adams beat Andrew Jackson in a controversial election.
1828: Jeffersonian "Democrat" Jackson thrashed Adams, ushering in a 32-year era of center-right, pro-slavery dominance. Adams’ party became the center-left Whigs, an inchoate conglomeration whose adherents agreed only on the fact that there weren’t Democrats. However, they won the presidency in 1840 and 1848. Anti-slavery Abolitionism gave rise to the Republican Party, centered in the north and New England. By 1856 the Whigs were splintered, and a Republican got 1,391,555 votes for president.
1860: By that time the Democrats were splintered geographically, the old Whigs ran a candidate, and Abraham Lincoln ran as the end-slavery-expansion, not abolitionist, candidate, getting 1,866,352 votes, to the Democrats’ combined 2,220,920. When the South seceded, it looked like Stephen Douglas had "destroyed" the Democrats, and the Republicans were the new center-left party. However, in 1864 Democrat George McClellan got 433,568 more votes than Douglas, despite running a campaign based on making a deal with the Confederates. That "destroyed" the Democrats in 1868 and 1872, making them the "pro-rebellion" party.
1876: The Democrats were back. Republican corruption and scandals were too odious. Democrat Sam Tilden won the election, but the Republicans stole enough votes in the South to keep the White House. Tilden, without the South’s black vote, got 4,284,757 votes, 1,450,678 more than the 1872 Democrat, but a more fundamental realignment was occurring, as big business, primarily in the urban East, was taking over the Republican Party, making it more center-right than center-left. The Democrats remained agrarian and segregationist Southern, but the Farm Belt and the westerners, feeling exploited by big business, especially the railroads, shifted to the Democrats.
1896: After 30 years of inconclusive elections, with a Democrat winning in 1880 and 1888, Republican William McKinley’s blowout win over populist William Jennings Bryan cemented the Republicans as the center-right party, in big business’ pocket, with the Democrats on the left. Had Bryan "destroyed" the Democrats? Again, that was short-lived. After McKinley was assassinated in 1901, unregulated and exploitative abuses by big business and profiteering became so intolerable that Teddy Roosevelt had to intervene, making the Republicans the reformist center-left party. That also was short-lived.
Roosevelt made William Howard Taft his successor in 1908, and Taft reverted to norm, prompting Roosevelt to run in 1912 as a Progressive. The combined Roosevelt-Taft vote was 7,699,972, while Woodrow Wilson got 6,286,214 votes. Wilson went to the White House, and he enacted the entire Bryan-Roosevelt agenda. Were the splintered Republicans "destroyed"? The 1916 Republican candidate got 8,538,221 votes and lost to Wilson by 23 electoral votes. Before his death in 1919, Roosevelt was set to be the 1920 nominee.
1932: By the 1920s, America was more urban than rural, and the inflow of immigrants, especially Irish, who worked in lousy jobs and lived in lousy housing, solidified the alignment begun by Wilson. Herbert Hoover’s Depression, which he failed to cure by government intervention, gave rise to Franklin Roosevelt’s win. Hoover beat Democrat Al Smith 21,392,190-15,016,443 in 1928, but he lost 22,821,857-15,761,841 in 1932. The center-left was in charge, and government became the solver and the solution. Was the party "destroyed"? In 1940 Wendell Willkie lost to FDR by just 27,243,466-22,304,755.
1964: After a generation of the Democrats’ New Deal and Fair Deal, and party dominance by "Me Too" Eastern Establishment Republicans whose idea of governance was that Democratic programs are just swell, but we can do them cheaper, the Republicans revolted. The party’s base had shifted geographically, to the South and West, and ideologically, to the conservatives. Barry Goldwater sought a clean conservative/liberal face-off against John Kennedy, but Dallas intervened. Against Lyndon Johnson, Goldwater had no chance, losing 43,126.506-27,176,799. Goldwater "destroyed" the party, pundits roared. The Republicans must be more liberal, they opined. The Democrats will win forevermore.
However, after LBJ’s huge affirmation, after the enactment of his liberal Great Society, Medicare and Model Cities agenda, the president got bogged down in Vietnam. In 1968 vice president Hubert Humphrey (D) got 31,275,366 votes, 11,851,340 fewer than Johnson did in 1964, and the winner was Richard Nixon, who got 31,765,480 votes in 1968, compared to 34,106,546 in 1960.
Then along came Watergate, Jimmy Carter (1976), Ronald Reagan (1980), Goldwater’s lineal descendant, Bill Clinton (1992), George Bush (2000) and Barack Obama (2008). Words like "destroyed" and "forever" gushed from the pundits’ word processors and laptops.
Obama got 69,498,215 votes in 2008 and dropped to 65,907,124 in 2012, and there is serious doubt that Clinton can crack 65 million votes in 2016. The "Humphrey Syndrome" awaits. Political parties are like crabgrass. Trump will come and probably go, but the grass will still grow.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.