Ross Douthat, in a post titled “A Party on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” considers Marco Rubio’s debate collapse, and the prospect of a second-place Kasich finish in New Hampshire:
At which point we would be in truly chaotic territory, in which the Republican Party’s ideological center, such as it is, would have great difficulty holding. A Rubio-Cruz-Trump race, as I’ve pointed out before, would already be the most ideologically consequential primary battle the G.O.P. has featured in decades if not generations. But at least it would be a relatively orderly battle, in which most of the party leadership would end up behind the Florida senator, rather than turning the knives on one another. If Rubio can’t consolidate things, though — if he falls into a tie with Jeb, let’s say, while Kasich is alone in second place — then we’re in a situation where Jeb might stick around till Florida and Kasich till Ohio, both on March 15th, an eternity away. Meanwhile Trump would have an actual win under his belt and Cruz would have running room in the SEC primary, meaning that the delegate leaders a month from would be all-but-guaranteed to be a candidate running on increasingly Bernie Sanders-ish rhetoric and a candidate feared by G.O.P. elites (on reasonable grounds) as the Barry Goldwater of 2016.
The thing is, the Democratic Party is also having a nervous breakdown, though it’s less entertaining to watch than the Republicans’. Tim Stanley, in the Telegraph:
Presuming that the polls are right and Sanders wins good, she is in serious trouble. Again, the press can’t accept the idea of a Sanders nomination – so let’s acknowledge the caveat that she’ll still be the nominee eventually. Nevertheless, her underwhelming performance is a sad indictment of what a poor candidate she is. Consider her advantages: money, endorsements, running against an aging socialist who wasn’t even a Democrat until recently, a career full accomplishment and major brand recognition. The problem with Hillary is that the voters know her too well: a majority of voters don’t trust her. Her narrow win in Iowa showed the depths of resentment towards her coronation, while defeat in New Hampshire – the state that rescued her in 2008 from immediate annihilation by Barack Obama – would make matters so much worse.
It’s worth dwelling on Stanley’s points here. A woman who has been at the top of American political life, and indeed at the pinnacle of Democratic Party politics, for over 20 years, is being walloped by an elderly socialist from Vermont. She has been reduced to stale, “You’ve come a long way, baby,” pants-suit identity politicking. having elderly Democrat Madeleine Albright, who is four years older than Bernie Sanders, chastising women who refused to vote for Hillary out of identity politics as headed for “a special place in Hell.” And Pleistocene-era feminist Gloria Steinem, 81, who was born the year Bonnie & Clyde were shot to death, said that the only reason young women support Sanders is because cute boys like him.
That does not even rise to the level of pathetic.
Hillary will, of course, be the Democratic nominee, but she will be reduced to depending on the GOP to melt down and produce Donald Trump or Ted Cruz as their nominee. A Hillary-era Democratic Party will not be one filled with vigor and vision. It will have the feel of the stale end of something. Bernie probably won’t make it to the nomination, but I suspect he will prove to be Gene McCarthy to Hillary’s Hubert Humphrey. The old Vermont leftie is probably going to lose to Hillary, but his people represent the party’s future. If I were a Democrat, I would anticipate the next four years of a Hillary Clinton administration as like unto going to work the day after Mardi Gras with a terrible hangover, and just having to gut it out.
Of course the GOP’s problems are massive too. There is no way to read this primary season so far as anything other than a resounding rejection of the Republican Establishment. Trump has all the energy. It may be a dark energy, but it is vital. One way or another, what Trump stands for is going to be a powerful force within the GOP after this election. Unlike Perotism, which fizzled, Trump is tapping into something more elemental. Tucker Carlson’s much-discussed piece about Trump (“Donald Trump is shocking, vulgar — and right: And, my fellow Republicans, he’s all your fault”) is still true.
God knows what kind of clown-car government Trump would oversee. It’s hard to see how a Cruz presidency is going to succeed, given how combative and unlikable he is, and how much he is loathed by his own party. And any Establishment Republican will start from a position of knowing that most of the people in his party at the grassroots have little confidence in him.
The next decade of American politics is going to be an interesting time, in the “ancient Chinese curse” sense.