Back on May 10th, I wrote the following:
I don’t like to repeat myself, but it’s my belief that the Republicans operate at a disadvantage because their policies are broadly unpopular. They are still able to succeed because they are extremely good at fighting each news cycle with a coherent and unified message that is carefully crafted to create an us vs. them narrative which basically tribalizes our elections and our political discourse. They simply cannot accomplish this task anymore because most of their thought leaders, from Erick Erickson at Red State, to many of their hate radio broadcasters, to the National Review, to most of their communitariat on television, to their foreign policy elite, to the Bushes, Romneys, and McCains, to the Speaker of the House and many congresspeople and senators, all refuse to sing from Trump’s hymnal. Trump also won’t be able to raise enough money to compete, and he won’t mobilize the leaders in the social conservative movement. He’ll also be fighting the president and his bully pulpit, who will have the advantage of not being a candidate.
It’s not enough to say that the Republicans always win Georgia. You have to look at all the things they do that make winning Georgia easy for them. If they can’t do those things, then suddenly Georgia isn’t easy for them.
I come at politics as an organizer with an organizer’s perspective, which means that I don’t put too much stock in what candidates say, but I look very carefully at what they build. The same is true of parties, which is why I identified Obama as an outlier eight years ago, because he was focused as much on building an organization to win as he was on winning rhetorical arguments with his opponents. The reason I early on concluded that Sanders had no chance at the nomination was as much about how late he got started and how little progress he made uniting elected progressives and progressive organizers as it was about his standing with the black vote. And the reason I am bullish on Trump collapsing is only partly about his staggering flaws as a human being. It’s mainly about his inability to get the GOP up and running the way a major party needs to be run in order to wage a competitive national election.
I see no way that he can do it, and it doesn’t really matter if he can peel off some disaffected Rust Belt union Democrats. The Republicans cannot hold their own people in line without a unified and disciplined and tribalized message that is very well funded and never internally contradicted. The right doesn’t move as a Borg without this, and they cannot maintain their historical strength under these conditions.
One term I’ve used for this over the years is “winning the argument.” You may not like him, but in 1984, Ronald Reagan won the argument, which is why Vermont and Massachusetts and Rhode Island all voted for him. When it comes to an election between Clinton and Trump when the GOP isn’t operating as it was built to operate, winning the argument seems a given, and the only question is whether or not Trump’s narcissism and ignorance and boorishness can take a lost argument to a level we haven’t seen before.
It all looks pretty spot-on to me. The social conservatives are divided but they came on board a little more easily than I anticipated. Whether they’re doing the same level of work with the same level of enthusiasm is another matter. Other than that quibble though, things have gone as I predicted and Trump’s “narcissism and ignorance and boorishness” have definitely taken things to a level we’ve never seen before.
If you’ve been following me all these years, you know my argument about how our divided country stays evenly divided because roughly equally strong forces have been holding up each side of the political wall. This is why we’ve had these fairly stable red and blue states for the last several presidential elections in a row. It’s been as unthinkable that a Democrat would win Texas as it has been that a Republican could win Massachusetts.
But things do not stay the same forever. And when one side loses enough strength, they can no longer apply equal force against the wall and it collapses on them. That’s how a Reagan wins Vermont. And that’s how a Republican could lose Arizona or South Carolina.
I’ve seen the signs and potential for this happening in this election for a long time and have argued that it would not end in a close result. For a long time I was more convinced about this than about who would actually win. Then the polls settled in after the conventions and it began to look like I was wrong. Clinton would win, but win a victory no bigger than Obama’s victories. And this is certainly still a possibility, mainly due to Clinton’s weaknesses as a candidate.
I’ll just say, though, if the spectacle of Trump making open war on his own party less than a month before the election cannot change the fundamentally gridlocked divide in this country, I don’t have a clue what possibly could.
If this election doesn’t tip strongly in the Democrats’ direction, then this is the best the left will do until the slow grind of demographic change tips the wall over. This is it. This is the grand opportunity.
And if you’re hung up on Clinton’s emails or some other nonsense, I don’t think you’ve got a clue what the possibilities are here or what the cost of missing this chance really would amount to.