Those of us already concerned about how Donald Trump’s legacy threatens to permanently erode the character of the Republican Party, may be seeing a small glimpse into what lies ahead after November 8th. At this very moment, the FiveThirtyEight “Polls-Plus” forecast shows Donald Trump with a less than 18% chance of winning the election. The RealClearPolitics electoral map shows red meat states like Texas and Utah, which Mitt Romney won in 2012 by 16 and 48 points respectively, colored more like dull-pink, medium-well Trump Steaks (He leads in both states by single digits, with at least one Utah poll showing him tied with Hillary Clinton). In other words, Mr. Trump and the GOP look ahead to an epic repudiation at the polls. And while Republicans should walk away from such a defeat with an appetite for introspection and self-criticism, we likely won’t, because Republicans have increasingly accepted the mantle of victimhood, and Mr. Trump intends to accelerate that trend.
Though Trump spent most of the general election reacting allergically to unfavorable polls, that era appears to have ended. Reluctant to take responsibility for his own words and actions, Trump insists that his precipitous decline owes itself to a pernicious conspiracy among the media, the Republican “establishment” and the Clinton campaign. He, and his obsequious toadies, have spent a great deal of time warning of a “stolen election,” with more potential culprits than Oliver Stone’s “JFK.” Ashley Parker notes as much in the New York Times:
“Mr. Trump’s ominous claims of a “stolen election”…are not entirely new. But in recent days, he has been pressing the theme with a fresh intensity, citing everything from the potential for Election Day fraud to news media bias favoring Mrs. Clinton to rigged debates.”
Contrast Trump’s preemptive finger-pointing with Mitt Romney’s concession speech in 2012, in which he stood alone, taking the blame for the campaign’s shortcomings; and the troubling difference comes to light.
To be sure, decrying left-leaning media bias is nothing new for the GOP. The tone of this criticism, however, has changed from one that recognized the supremacy of conservative ideas–so powerful that Americans choose them in spite of media bias–to a defeatist tone that paints the political right as powerless victims, and American voters as simpletons. Trump’s claims, which unfortunately hit paydirt with too many Republicans, threaten to unnecessarily undermine the integrity of a staple of American democracy–the vote.
While many Republicans have spoken out against Trump’s claim, the Republican nominee implicates these GOP critics in his decline as well. When House Speaker, Paul D. Ryan announced that he would turn his attention away from defending Trump, after a video emerged showing the nominee bragging about sexually assaulting women, Trump pounced, reigniting a feud, and implicating Ryan in a conspiracy to elect Hillary Clinton.
“There is a whole deal going on there. There is a whole deal going on and we’re going to figure it out. I always figure things out. But there’s a whole sinister deal going on.”
Overcoming obstacles, used to form the backbone of conservative ideology. Taking personal responsibility for our actions, and for where those actions placed us, was the message that attracted Americans from every race and class to join the GOP.
But now, we have Trump.
Neither Trump, nor his apologists, appear ready to face the reality that has been staring them in the face since the purported billionaire descended down the escalator to greet a smattering of paid supporters: Donald Trump is a loser. Whether he wins in November or not, Trump will either damage conservatives’ credibility, or so misshape the GOP that what will remain of the two political parties will be competing organizations of aggrieved victims of first-world problems.
Rather than carry the mantle of personal responsibility, we’re told that individual choices–like picking fights with a Gold Star family, an American judge of Mexican heritage, and a sympathetic beauty contestant–don’t matter. Instead, we’re sold the liberal message: that the deck is stacked against us, no matter what we do. We are powerless, pathetic, duds, whose only hope lies in government, or in Trump’s case, in an American version of a Latin American strongman.
No. Trump’s is not a conservative message. That’s why he’s losing. If, after November, Republicans fail to recognize that, Trumpism will doom us to perpetual victimhood and political failure.
And, if we’re honest, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.