Which will unravel the Republican Party faster: Donald Trump as its presidential candidate, or a contested convention that chooses someone else? That’s what everyone is talking about. And everyone is wrong.
You’ve heard the predictions…
- If Trump is the candidate: He gets shellacked in the general election, tarnishes the GOP brand for a decade, and dooms Congressional and even state candidates who are on the ballot with him.
- If Trump isn’t the candidate: Should Trump arrive in Cleveland in July without the necessary 1,237 delegates, the Republican establishment chooses someone else and infuriates at least a third of its base.
Both are bad. But not as bad as this.
Trump comes close
The GOP will be DOA for a generation if Trump loses to Hillary Clinton by less than Mitt Romney and John McCain lost to Barack Obama.
Let’s break that down: In 2012, Obama crushed Romney. As U.S. News reported back then…
Obama got 51.1 percent of the popular vote to Mitt Romney’s 47.2 percent, a four point margin. That’s a wider margin than George W. Bush won by in 2004 (51-48). Ronald Reagan only reached 50.75 percent in 1980.
In 2008, it was even worse. Obama got 52.9 percent of the vote, while McCain got just 45.7 percent.
If Trump can lose by less than Romney and McCain, two things will surely happen…
- Trump will be the GOP’s front-runner for 2020: He’ll expose the GOP’s strategy that only “moderates” are electable.
- Trump supporters will be even more pissed off: They’ll believe the only reason Trump didn’t close that smaller gap was the Republican establishment’s early attacks and later ambivalence.
This is much worse than the other scenarios. Here’s why.
Quick recovery vs. slow death
If Trump is the GOP nominee and loses in a historic landslide, even his most ardent supporters can’t explain that away. A reluctant establishment? A biased media? Elitist conspiracy? A wide enough margin defies those excuses. And moderate Republicans get to say, “Told you so.”
Yes, the GOP suffers now. Other Republican candidates get swept away in the landslide loss. But the Trump experiment ends so badly, few will have the heart (or stomach) for a repeat.
If a contested convention disses Trump and chooses, say, Marco Rubio or John Kasich, the GOP surely loses to Hillary Clinton in November. But Clinton is such an object of scorn to Republicans, they’ll coalesce into a weakened but laser-focused opposition party. By 2020, old wounds will ache much less than the fresh pain of facing a fourth term for a Clinton.
If Trump loses by less than his predecessors, that’s four more years of metaphysical infighting. The GOP’s economic populists, social conservatives, and business moderates will each struggle for the soul and control of the party. The longer that lasts, the less likely they join forces ever again. They’ll become strangers.
Thus, the death of the Republican Party won’t be a bullet to the head. It’ll be a stab in the gut, and a slow bleeding out.
As a bonus prediction…
If Hillary Clinton wins a second term, Chelsea Clinton will start positioning herself as a future president. If that happens, expect Canada to build a border wall — to keep all the Republicans from fleeing there.