Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Party Formerly Known as Republican

Steve is back with why the party is over for the GOP...

You want to read about the presidential campaign? Wow, you are sooooo March!  Get with the program; we’re busy vetting VP lists.  I just bought a tranche of Juli√°n Castro futures and I’m thinking of hedging with some Corey Booker swaps.

Yes, the curtain on Act I has now come down, and the party is over for Bernie, Ted, and what’s his name from Ohio.

A very brief word on the Dem side: If the primary results in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Rhode Island don’t transport the Bernie Babies off their Fantasy Island, then Millennials must be more anti-science than a Ted Cruz environmental white paper. Apparently if you feel the Bern, you somehow believe that global warming is real but arithmetic is not.  Bernie’s current “path to victory” makes Harrison Ford’s escape in the opening sequence of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” look eminently plausible by contrast.

Bernie, we sense, is right on the cusp of his “Back to the Future” moment, in which he risks plunging from his hard won stature of “idealist on a powerful mission” back to his crazy “Doc Brown” doppelg√§nger, a wild-haired crank from Vermont who needs lots of plutonium and can’t let go of the microphone.  He must now focus on the timing, message, and negotiation of his exit in order to take advantage of any leverage he still yields to impact the party and platform.  If he insists on riding this horse all the way to California, his grand departure from the national stage is literally going to happen at 3:00 am East Coast Time on C-Span 3. At that point -- having crushed him in the final delegate count -- Hillary may send him a conciliatory text through one of her twenty-something social media tweeters.

But on the Republican side, there is an entirely different and seismic meaning in the phrase “the party’s over.” Donald Trump’s mind-blowing landslides in yesterday’s five contests did not simply scream that the party is over for Cruz and Kasich. It signaled that, well, the party is over. Trump now has the time, the muscle, and the motive to remake the Republican Party in his image.

Donald Trump has won this nomination not only without the support of any traditional party resources, he has won it in spite of the fact that the traditional “establishment” has used every possible angle and trick – clean and dirty -- to block him.  Donald Trump has not simply beaten Ted Cruz, that fuzzy grandpa guy, and 14 other “losers!!” -- he has beaten the Republican Party. Whatever entity it is that he ends up accepting the nomination from, it most certainly is not the Republican Party in any form we’ve ever known it. Indeed, in honor of our great national loss last week, let’s call Trump’s political affiliation “the Party formerly known as Republican.”

For the last eight months, the Republican Party has been an epic street war between the Trumps and Bluebloods.

The original establishment candidates were crushed in Donald Trump’s initial media blitzkrieg, as a parade of resume-toting centrists took turns playing the “great trite hope” before Trump labeled them low energy midgets; humiliated them in sequence, often in their own home turf.  The party’s most landed gentry – Mitt Romney and Barbara Bush – were trotted out for the specific purpose of turning up their perfect patrician noses at the horrific manners of the would-be hair to their throne.  Together, these two party icons had all the impact of nerf balls flung by five-year-olds during kindergarten recess.

The party apparatus then began operating incognito under the hashtag “#StopTrump,” holding its nose and pretending to be genuinely enthusiastic about Ted Cruz while desperately gaming any and every scenario that could leave Donald Trump one delegate short of 1237.

The most recent #StopTrump fiasco was a hastily arranged marriage of inconvenience between Ted Cruz and John Kasich, who appeared to have signed the “Appeasement at Eunichs,” each agreeing to stand down in certain states to increase the other’s odds of beating Trump in a mano-a-mano battle. Unfortunately, your average Syrian cease-fire lasts longer than this ill-conceived Hail Mary pass.

But after many tactical blunders, the “#StopTrump” movement was finally “fixed” last week; sadly not, however, in the meaning of being “corrected,” but rather in in the sense of what veterinarians do to cats. In a relatively unheralded moment, House Speaker Paul Ryan issued a sweeping, comprehensive, and massively consequential missive renouncing any possibility that he would accept the nomination in a brokered convention.

The effect of his announcement was far more significant than the modest press it received.  Paul Ryan is literally the only person in the Republican Party who has the stature, role, gravitas, name recognition, and broad-based respect to have the slightest wisp of a chance of emerging as a consensus candidate in a brokered election. The only other name that had even been floated was Mitt Romney, which is a bit like taking the accurate but nonetheless flawed position that the most certain way to put an end to your cancer is to have a massive heart attack.

As long as Paul Ryan was there, waiting in the wings, ready to catch the ball and run with it, the #Stop Trump people could effectively argue that a vote for Ted Cruz was actually a vote for Paul Ryan: voting for Cruz was the surest way to ensure the brokered convention in which the establishment could snatch the nomination away from Trump and hand it to Paul Ryan.

With Ryan gone, everyone suddenly realized that a vote for Ted Cruz was now actually a vote for Ted Cruz, and that gaming the system to ensure a brokered convention could actually lead to the nomination of Ted Cruz.

As we have gradually learned more about Ted Cruz over the long course of the campaign, we have come to see that he has the properties of a radioactive isotope, killing in only small doses of exposure, virtually impossible to dispose of, and capable of creating a toxic mess that could last for centuries. His wholly unintentional contribution to undermining the “#StopTrump” movement has been to expertly game the arcane state-by-state rules for delegate selecton, prying off a delegate here and there through parliamentary tactics and schmoozing local party hacks.  This was manna from heaven for Trump, who proceeded to nail Cruz as just another establishment player who bends the rules to thwart the will of the people. 

What a gift! Trump could literally spend news cycle after news cycle saying that both Ted Cruz -- and the Republican Party that created the rules -- were desperately trying to rig the system against Trump and his supporters.

Enjoy your Ted Cruz pretzel with considerable relish: he has twisted himself into the anti-establishment “outsider” now feverishly manipulating the establishment’s self-serving party rules in order to delegitimize the delegates of another “outsider” candidate. I have waited a lifetime to use the word “antidisestablishmentarianism” in a real sentence, and this may be about as close as I get.

Yet another exhibit in this parade of establishment folly is John Kasich, who justifies his decision to persevere in this campaign on the basis of polls that indicate that he has a better chance of beating Hillary Clinton in the general election than Donald Trump.

Yes, the man who has competed in 38 primaries and only won his home state is now claiming that the essential rationale of his campaign is his electability. Tell me where I am wrong, but if you boil this proposition down to a single sentence, it comes out like this: “Vote for me; my opponent has beaten me 37 of 38 times, but I am more electable.” Friends, the 1962 Mets – arguably the universal metaphor for abysmal failure -- actually won 40 of their 162 games. But there you have it: the sole surviving remnant of the Republican “establishment” is a man who figures that in a brokered convention, the best guy to turn to is the candidate who has literally lost more primaries in one election cycle than anyone in the history of the United States.

Please allow me to simplify where things stand in the Party formerly known as Republican.

It’s been clear for a very long time now that what we once called the “Republican Party” is not a “Big Tent” but rather a sprawling array of trailer parks adjacent to one incredibly rich suburb.

There are three flavors to the Republican Party: 
  1. An anti-Federal government wing, that rails against out-of-touch Washington bureaucrats who get nothing done.
  2. A socially conservative and philosophically doctrinaire wing that places enormous importance on Christian faith and conservative ideological purity.
  3. A “moderate” republican; the economically conservative but socially centrist element that now exists largely so Republicans have a chance of competing in Blue States.
I am neither a political scientist nor a credentialed commentator. I have spent my career in advertising and marketing.  In my world, the Donald Trump “phenomenon” is actually relatively straightforward Marketing 101.

If you want to be the leading brand in any category, you have to figure out what is most important to the most people, and then deliver it better than anyone else.

“Coke refreshes you best.”
“It’s everywhere you want to be.”
“When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”

Marketing maven Donald Trump divined three simple facts. 
  1. The largest of the three flavors of the Republican Party was the first: the broad disgust with the Federal Government. He set his sights on the most people; the biggest slice of the pie.
  2. He then figured out what was most important to them: that these people not only felt that Washington lifers were out of touch, but that their ineptitude had actually been destructive to their lives. Washington has lost jobs to China, Washington has allowed illegal immigrants to steal jobs, Washington has allowed foreigners to terrorize us, Washington took us to stupid wars in the Middle East.
  3. He told this group of Republicans that he would be better at solving their problems than anyone else. He’d build a wall. Renegotiate “stupid” trade deals. Ban Muslims. He told the world that the sainted Bush family had soiled America with its horribly conceived war in Iraq. 
It may not be pretty, but it is Marketing 101.

Who is Ted Cruz? He’s the guy who positioned himself as the champion of the second largest group. And now he has the second most delegates. Duh.

And the crazy guy from Ohio?  He stayed in the race thinking that the third group – the centrist group – would inevitably reveal itself to be far larger than it ever was.  Yes, he is the guy who has won one out of 38 states, and actually has fewer delegates than Marco Rubio, who was the only “centrist” who ever had a real chance.

In July, there’s going to be a big convention in Cleveland. There will be a roll call of states, and party functionaries will announce the delegate counts in the great state of this and the proud state of that. Balloons will fall from the ceiling. There will be images of elephants, graphics that depict the “G.O.P.”  Rance Priebus will bloviate about how the Republican Party has come together to support their candidate, Donald Trump.

The truth is very different. Donald Trump has overthrown the Republican Party. The Party has not come together to support Donald Trump, Donald Trump has created his own party and is now allowing traditional Republicans, tails between their legs, to kiss his ring. There is a profound rebranding taking place, and we will now witness the process of a party completely remaking itself under new leadership.  The hostile takeover is complete, and Donald Trump – the pure-play outsider – has been given the keys, and now he will decide what aspects of old-style Republican dogma will stay and what will go.

The curtain on Act I has fallen; Act II will take us through Cleveland, where we will see the birth of the new party. The King is dead; long live the King.

And you won’t need a Prince to tell you that it will be the Party Formerly Known as Republican.


  1. Definitely the most entertaining and astute article on politics today.

  2. Definitely the most entertaining and astute article on politics today.

  3. Steve, my favorite essay yet, and I've enjoyed them all. The marketing analysis is spot on. I love it that you can make me both laugh and think in the middle of what can only be seen as a breathtaking mess.

  4. I find the Democratic nomination to be even more entertaining. Will certain anti-establishment supporters hold to their convictions and not vote for the nominee, or will the #bowdownbernie supporters turn out to be the sheep we knew both they and the Clinton supporters were all along?


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