GOP Voters Deliberately Set The Party On Fire

Graphic by Tim Markatos

Daniel Larison has a bunch of explanations for Michael Brendan Dougherty as to how the GOP primaries wrecked so many promising political careers.

  • “Republican pundits and activists keep lowering the standards for acceptable presidential candidates, and . . . the same people consistently exaggerate and oversell the abilities and qualifications of the party’s latest group of new political leaders.”
  • “[W]e shouldn’t forget the candidates’ own significant weaknesses when accounting for their failure . . . Did Jindal do so poorly because the field was too large or because he had presided over a fiscal disaster in his home state? Rubio wasn’t ready to be president, and it showed during a campaign he should never have run.”
  • “Another factor that often gets overlooked in all this is the influence of the conservative media in creating an imaginary political landscape in which Obama is perceived as a deeply unpopular failure.”

The problem with these explanations for why so many candidates failed is that they don’t account for why the three candidates who remain are still in the race. Trump and Cruz, after all, are significantly less qualified and have significantly poorer abilities by most traditional metrics than the vast majority of the candidates they defeated, and are also the most over-the-top in their opposition to everything President Obama has done. Dougherty complains that for candidates like Huntsman and Perry “[o]ne branding problem or a bad debate becomes unfixable.” But Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have vastly worse branding problems. And let’s not even talk about the debates.

Instead, let’s talk about John Kasich. He’s a (relatively) moderate, non-insane candidate. He’s got perfectly respectable traditional qualifications for high office. And he hasn’t won much of anything, nor does he have much of a prospect of winning. Why is he still around, while Scott Walker and Rick Perry, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, all had to quit?

The main thing that distinguishes Kasich from all the people who have been driven from the field is that his candidacy has almost no support from the institutional Republican party, and never had it.

That’s it.

In 2012, the institutional Republican Party united behind Mitt Romney really early, and still struggled to push him over the finish line against largely ridiculous opposition. In 2016, the institutional Republican Party failed to unite behind anyone – and basically everyone to whom the party showed the slightest sign of favor went up in flames. The two remaining viable candidates are the two individuals who ran explicitly against the institutional party, and the also-ran candidate is someone the institutional party would find acceptable, but for one reason or another either ignored or treated as a joke.

The GOP’s problem is not fundamentally that too many more-or-less qualified candidates wanted to be President. That was not a problem for the Democrats in 1988 or 1992, after all. It’s that most of them thought the way to become President was to run for the Republican nomination. They didn’t understand that to have a chance with the Republican electorate, they first had to create their own, independent brand, and then run against the Republican Party.

Michael Brendan Dougherty suggests an “instant runoff” system as a solution to the GOP’s problems. But such a system, implemented in Iowa, would have left the top 3 finishers as Trump, Cruz and Rubio – exactly the three who actually finished on top there. Implemented in New Hampshire, it would have padded Trump’s plurality (I expect at least some Carson and Christie voters would have chosen Trump second). Beyond that, who knows? Would Fiorina voters in New Hampshire have picked Bush second? Or Rubio? Or Cruz? Does it matter? She dropped out anyway.

Since last September, well before voting began, a majority of GOP voters preferred the most-unacceptable candidates: Trump, Cruz and Carson. Since the voting began, that trio has earned a majority of the votes in essentially every contest. Not a plurality – a majority. No change in the voting system can make that majority preference go away.

As for simply banning unacceptable candidates from running – how exactly would that work?

When Reihan Salam suggested something similar back in September of last year, I said:

The evidence of the last few cycles is that the GOP’s voters deeply distrust the leadership. The evidence of the response of many insiders to this most recent cycle is that the distrust is mutual. If you want to solve that problem, you probably shouldn’t start by institutionalizing it.

Still true.

[UPDATE: I may have gotten a bit jumbled in my own head as to which arguments were Larison’s and which were Dougherty’s. Larison argues that the conservative echo chamber hatred of Obama may be responsible for Trump and Cruz’s success, for example, as well as for the overpopulation of the primary. My apologies for getting that mixed up.]

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20 Responses to GOP Voters Deliberately Set The Party On Fire

  1. cka2nd says:

    Recent polling has Kasich running second behind Trump in New York, Pennsylvania and at least some of the upcoming run of mid-Atlantic and New England states. I saw part of one of his local town meetings on TV. Terrible on the issues – free trade, imperialist foreign policy, too many public employees (so completely not true after the last seven years), dismissive of blue collar work – but totally credible as President, with even a hint of good humor and charisma.

    All I can say is that it’s mind-boggling that both the GOP establishment AND the religious right (I finally saw a journalist compare his substantial anti-abortion record to Cruz’s rhetorical one) have ignored, dismissed and insulted him and that the Dems are damned lucky he probably won’t get the nomination. Of course, if he consistently bumps Cruz from second to third place – and the upcoming races could allow that – and even steals a few wins, and neither Trump nor Cruz can improve their positions, he may still have an outside shot at the nomination by being everyone’s acceptable second choice. He could beat Clinton (turnout would also probably be low) but Sanders could pick up some of Trump’s voters and beat him.

  2. EliteCommInc. says:

    Hmmmm,

    the liberal and moderate media (if it existed) have been all too happy to make the case of why said candidates are unacceptable.

    As for Gov. Kasich,

    not willing to hold WS accountable for misbehavior

    will expand the use of illegal immigrants and foreign employees — has no comprehension of what this id doing to employment, services and criminal justice in other parts of the country

    panders to the Muslim community, while ate the same time wants to engage in more military efforts in the ME

    Apparently actually believes that Wisconsin is reflective of the bureaucratic, social and economics of the country — and that kind of we did, and therefore it can be done — smacks of the nonsensical arguments that gave us the ACA

    And has no means of paying for the social programs expansions he supports.

    Sane . . . in the universe of Ohio maybe.

    Here’s a positive article despite it’s title. I would love to see how he entices business to the other fifty states and pushes for more federal subsidies. But he certainly sounds like a nice guy —

    he invites women who want to be men to share my restroom.

  3. EliteCommInc. says:

    well,

    49 states and US territories.

  4. bering growler says:

    “The evidence of the last few cycles is that the GOP’s voters deeply distrust the leadership. “

    The good news is that, if the Sanders campaign is anything to go by, a significant number of Democrats are starting to feel the same way about their party.

    The dysfunction and eventual disintegration of these corrupt, out-of-it parties is probably to be welcomed, though obviously it’s possible that whatever supplants them will be even more horrid and odoriferous.

  5. philadelphialawyer says:

    Larison:

    “Another factor that often gets overlooked in all this is the influence of the conservative media in creating an imaginary political landscape in which Obama is perceived as a deeply unpopular failure.”

    Millman:

    “The problem with these explanations for why so many candidates failed is that they don’t account for why the three candidates who remain are still in the race. Trump and Cruz, after all, are significantly less qualified and have significantly poorer abilities by most traditional metrics than the vast majority of the candidates they defeated, and are also the most over-the-top in their opposition to everything President Obama has done.”

    I think that was Larison’s point.That the alternate reality of Obama as incompetent and unpopular put over on the Republican rank and file by conservative media leads them to choose the most over the top critics of Obama.

    To quote Larison in full:

    “Another factor that often gets overlooked in all this is the influence of the conservative media in creating an imaginary political landscape in which Obama is perceived as a deeply unpopular failure. We saw how that affected Republicans in the 2012 cycle, when almost everyone in the party was so confident that Obama would lose. Almost all of the 2016 candidates have been working on the same assumption that the electorate is eager to repudiate Obama. That must have made the Republican nomination seem that much more attractive to a larger number of politicians and others. I assume that this also explains why so many Republican voters are getting behind Trump and Cruz, neither of whom appears to have a prayer of winning the general election under current conditions. The same overconfidence in a Republican victory that encouraged so many candidates to enter the race has also led most Republican voters to back the candidates that are among the most likely to lose the election.”

    GOP voters believe that President Obama is a hated failure, and so they think the more their presidential candidate condemns Obama, the better he is and the more electable he is too. Hence, NOT JEB! or even Rubio, and not really Kasich either, but Carson, Cruz and Trump.

  6. Richard Allard says:

    If honesty has any merit, Trump has the highest grade of all the contestant’s. He is the only candidate who would address the excess of illegal immigrants and poor foreign exchange deals. He would actually answer how we would deal with this country’s debt problems. He is not a polished liar, compared to most Congressional representatives.

  7. We seek honesty in the political race. Trump is in the lead for this category. We seek action in solving the excess of illegal immigrants. Better trade agreements. Better financial actions about fair taxes. Make congress accountable to the public in lieu of lobbies.

  8. William Dalton says:

    “Trump and Cruz, after all, are significantly less qualified and have significantly poorer abilities by most traditional metrics than the vast majority of the candidates they defeated, and are also the most over-the-top in their opposition to everything President Obama has done.”

    In one sense it is true that Trump and Cruz are the most extreme candidates to survive the Republican bloodletting of the early primary season. But in the singularly most significant sense they present themselves as the LEAST extreme candidates in the GOP field. For all their bluster about building a wall against Mexico or tearing up a world approved nuclear disarmament pact with Iran, these were the two men, Rand Paul excepted, who expressed the MOST reluctance to send Americans abroad to fight in other countries’ wars. This was the downfall of McCain and Romney against Obama, and it was the Achilles Heel of Walker, Bush, Rubio, and all the other “mainstream” favorites of the GOP establishment. To Republican primary voters (not all of whom are Republicans) in this, the year of our Lord, 2016, the prospect of another President willing to spend blood and treasure for the peace, freedom or security of a foreign country whose people do not want our warmakers and will inevitably be their primary victims is simply unacceptable. No one can take this position and be considered a “moderate”, no matter how middle of the road are his positions of taxes, spending, abortion, immigration, gun control, or any number of other issues that usually mark the divide between radical and respectable in the Republican Party. John Kasich survived because his record of actual achievement was far better than those of his better funded competitors, but, more significantly, he waited until late in the campaign to assert his neo-con bona fides, at least to the extent voters thought he was serious about them.

    At this point in the campaign all these remaining candidates have muddied the waters enough to raise doubt they will even be preferable to Hillary Clinton on the score that elevated them this far. But here they are, and it appears Republicans will have to choose one of them.

  9. Dixie Pixie says:

    Look…Its real simple.
    Its the current political establishment that is toxic.

    Since 1992 the constant theme in all presidential elections is the voters demand for “Change”.
    For the last 50 years the Middle / Working Class has been economical hammered by Washington’s policies.

    Yet there has been no change by either Party because the current political establishment of both Parties benefit from the current system and stop any changes as a diminishment of their power, status and prestige.

    So any Establishment figure is unacceptable to the voting public as it is the Establishment that is the cause of the public problems.

    Unless Working Class concerns are addressed by the Establishment, any Establishment Politician is toxic and will be rejected by the voters.

  10. In The Shade says:

    “He could beat Clinton (turnout would also probably be low) but Sanders could pick up some of Trump’s voters and beat him.”

    I guess I agree with this, but then I think beating Clinton isn’t much of a challenge. She’s so angry, drawn, and bitter looking. That’s on top of her track record of incompetence, corruption, and her retinue of shady hangers-on. I just can’t see it, even against the vile Donald Trump.

    But that’s the mano-a-mano take. On the other hand there’s the Clinton Machine, a great, ravening sea of rice bowls howling to be filled. Pretty formidable, even with a crooked, loathsome hag for a standard bearer …

  11. Vito Danelli says:

    Kasich: Social Security Cuts “get over it” – 10/09/2015
    http://youtu.be/KMN2Whn9DNg

    “Last year, while appearing at a [Koch] conference, Kasich collided with Randy Kendrick, a prominent backer of tea party interests, who’d challenged the governor on his Medicaid expansion. ‘I don’t know about you, lady,’ Kasich said as he pointed at Kendrick, his voice rising. ‘But when I get to the pearly gates, I’m going to have an answer for what I’ve done for the poor.’ The exchange took many in the audience aback; about 20 people sitting in the crowd walked out. …

    http://www.politico.com/playbook/0715/playbook19194.html

    Kasich: Cop who pulled him over is “an idiot”
    http://youtu.be/Aq9Sm_gX49o

  12. Clint says:

    Trump is the candidate most unlike the professional Lawyer/Politicians that are Obama and much of The Washington Establishment.

    Also,Trump stood up to the biased Mainstream Media and it’s attempts to orchestrate another election.

  13. blanderson says:

    Noah Miller writes in this article: ” Trump and Cruz, after all,, are significantly less qualified and have significantly poorer abilities by most traditional metrics than the vast majority of the candidates they defeated,”

    The problem with this statement is it assumes that the existing status quo of determining qualified candidates actually works and is good. It is not good. The existing leaders of government are inept and not doing their job. Look at the IRS, VA, Mining safety, environmental protection, and illegal immagrant scandals and many more. Our supposedly “qualified” leaders are failing us.
    The voters have had enough and it is time for a paradigm shift in how we determine the qualifications for leaders.

  14. JonF says:

    Re: This was the downfall of McCain and Romney against Obama

    No. Foreign policy certainly was a minus for both, but there was much more to it that that. McCain’s huge #1 problem was the melting down economy in 2008, which, fairly or not, the GOP owned (and McCain’s ham-handed response had been in the same territory as that Dukakis in the tank ad). Romney’s problems were more complex, beginning with the fact that beating a sitting president is hard. But the single largest issue was probably Romney’s upper-crust disconnect with the ordinary voter, as epitomized by his infamous 47% remark.

  15. Eric says:

    If Kasich is non-insane for saying we need to punch the Russians in the nose, and (by implication) Trump is insane, even though he does not seem to feel it is in the American interest to provoke a nuclear-armed power, maybe the author needs a straitjacket.

  16. Fran Macadam says:

    Kasich, a Dole lookalike, beat a Clinton? No.

    As for experience in politics, we certainly have a lot of establishment pols experienced in ruining the country, if not running it.

  17. Blackhorse says:

    Ryan=leadership. He should have been running. Cruz or a rep from the Freedom Caucus would be the logical challenge. The GOP deserves what it gets for letting Trump and Carson to play in the first place. Parties should serve a vetting function. As for Kasich, he indeed had no basis for support other than the media (“the nice one”). But he was moderate only in tone. The states used to be called laboratories of democracy. Katich, Snyder, Walker, and Jindal presided over labs for dissolution.

  18. Just Dropping By says:

    As for simply banning unacceptable candidates from running – how exactly would that work?

    This is one of the oddly undiscussed aspects of the American political party system (with the exception of a little bit of a kerfuffle early on about Sanders last year). In most countries that I’m familiar with, political parties can refuse to accept or eject existing members whom the party leadership deems unacceptable on ideological or pragmatic grounds. As far as I can tell, neither of the major parties in the United States claim to have such power or, if they theoretically claim it, they never exercise it, they just withhold resources or throw support to a primary challenger. Furthermore, I don’t think there would be any legal or constitutional bar to an American political party exercising such powers since the Supreme Court and other courts that have been confronted with challenges to various party machinations have basically said that the parties can run their internal processes like a private club without any due process/equal protection problems.

  19. Egypt Steve says:

    re: “If honesty has any merit, Trump has the highest grade of all the contestant’s.”

    Heh. Thousands of Muslims celebrating 9-11 in New Jersey. He saw it. Really.

    Oh, and the fraudulent Trump University?

  20. Egypt Steve says:

    @ Just Dropping By:

    Without having spent even two seconds researching this, my guess is that most states have laws that govern who gets on the ballots of elections conducted by the states, even primary elections, and that anyone who pays a filing fee can run for anything they want to. I suspect that the state parties would have to completely take over the running of primary elections, including paying for the whole thing, in order to control who has ballot access — which I assume they could do, but at a huge cost.

    Again, a pure guess, and laws must vary a lot from state to state.

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