While Election Day is still two weeks away, imagine with me for a moment that it is Wednesday, Nov. 9, and Hillary Clinton has won the election. If you are a Donald Trump supporter, you will be processing a whirlwind of emotions, nearly all of them negative.
Now imagine for a moment that it was not a landslide victory but within 5 percentage points. What will you be thinking? While I don’t presume to know what anyone’s initial thoughts will be, I reasonably suspect that about four or five thoughts in, the now-disillusioned Trump supporter will begin to look for reasons why their man lost. Due to Trump’s own rhetoric, the first suspect will likely be that the election was stolen. Shortly thereafter, it will be the media and ‘Crooked’ Hillary’s fault. However, it will not be long before angry eyes begin looking toward the conservatives and/or Republicans who chose to vote for a candidate other than Trump.
I expect that while the outcry at the main stream media, allegations of election stealing, and anger at the uninformed voter will be loud and passionate, it will be a flash in the pan when compared to the white hot vitriol reserved for those who were ‘disloyal’ to the Party. It will come raining down like lava from Vesuvius onto an unprepared Pompeii, seeking to obliterate any remaining influence the ‘traitors’ had and thereby complete the apparent scorched earth decimation of the GOP that Trump began during the primary.
Unfortunately, this type of response is tantamount to a circular firing squad. Far better than to engage in a protracted and mutually destructive internecine war would be to take a serious inventory of why Trump won the primary but lost the general election. If done properly, the GOP will be better prepared to meet the challenge of a contentious mid-year Congressional election and chart a pathway to victory.
What would an honest examination discover? While there will be a plethora of factors leading to the loss, I believe at least three will arise as chief causes, which I will briefly look at below.
First – the non-Trump voter. This may seem incongruous with what I wrote above, yet the fact of the matter is that under normal circumstances voters put people in and take them out of public office. There were 17 candidates at the start of the Republican primary and many of them were already elected officials, yet none of them beat Donald Trump. However, by the time early voting began, many Republican and conservative independents began openly speaking of voting third party, writing in a candidate, or simply voting down ballot. If Trump loses, then it will in part be the fault of the non-Trump voter, but only in the sense of the excluded middle. What does that mean? One can either vote for Trump or for non-Trump; therefore, the voters who keep Trump out of office would not only consist of conservatives and Republicans who voted non-Trump, but also every other voter who voted non-Trump (i.e., everyone who supports Hillary Clinton and those who abstain all together).
Second – an inconsistent message from the Republican Party. This was illustrated last week at The Daily Caller by Michael B. Abrahamson’s column, “The Republican Party’s Lost Messaging Opportunity.” While I do not subscribe to Abrahamson’s Trump-as-victim line of reasoning any more than I do the Donna Brazille-was-persecuted-by-Megyn Kelly argument, he does a good job of illustrating just how schizophrenic the Republican Party’s message has been this year. Rather than restate his points, it will suffice to say that there have been inconsistencies between the Speaker of the House, the Majority Leader of the Senate, the Chairman of the Republican National Committee and Trump himself. Surprising no one, if the leaders at the top are not speaking a coordinated and coherent message, then the state and local level leaders and rank-and-file members are bound to be in communications disarray. However, how could these disparate people be on the same page when the candidate and his running mate are often speaking differently about the same thing? Who will forget the moment in the second presidential debate when Trump said (about Pence), “He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree”? No other moment typifies the inconsistency of the Republican campaign.
Third, and most importantly – Donald Trump himself. Ultimately, winning or losing a political race is the responsibility of the candidate. Trump has had ample time to do what he says he does best: close the deal. Yet if he loses, it will be the result of constantly getting in his own way. Not only is he is the main cause of the Republican message confusion, but he has not articulated his administration’s platform beyond the ability of a seventh grader running for student body council: “Make America Great Again” is an excellent campaign slogan, much better than Hillary’s, but it is not a comprehensive policy position. Another example: “I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively…” touches on economics, trade and immigration, yet leaves all three policy areas famished for lack of knowledge. (This is not to come down hard on Trump, for he has been consistent with himself the entire campaign and no Republican can say they didn’t know what they were getting.) A little substance would go a long way to convincing people that Trump knows what he is doing and deserves a chance to do it.
This column is written based upon two propositions: 1. Hillary will defeat Trump, and 2. it will be by a relatively slim margin. Should either of these prove not to be true (i.e., Hillary wins by a landslide or Trump beats her by any margin), then the column itself is not necessarily invalidated except for the danger of a circular firing squad.
Personally, I am not a Trump supporter, but hope that Hillary is not elected president. Regardless, the Republican Party should constantly be examining itself and discovering ways it can improve its ability to win elections. The GOP should always seek to win back disillusioned voters, stay on message and articulate why its policies are best for America. After all, victories are only as good as the next primary, which in today’s media driven world, will begin on Nov. 9, regardless of who wins on Election Day.