The Shrinking of the GOP Tent
It has often been said that in order to win future elections, the GOP needs to build a “bigger tent.” Lately, however, it seems that some conservative pundits have pulled up the stakes and are working at trimming down its size by around 20%.
That’s the current ballpark figure of support for the candidacy of Donald Trump.
While some political analysts have been worrying about whether The Donald might go rogue against the establishment -- run third party and thereby split the GOP -- we should also be concerned that some conservative commentators may be helping to drive that wedge. Not because of their predictions of Trump’s ultimate loss of the GOP nomination (which are probably correct) or their legitimate criticism of him, but for the bashing of his supporters -- which in some instances has taken on tones of outright banishment.
When it comes to the Trump phenomenon, instead of conservatives “standing athwart history yelling stop,” some now seem to be standing athwart the throng of Trump supporters yelling: “Go away!”
Of course, many conservative writers have researched and produced some monumental work in exposing and explaining that Trump isn’t a true conservative and hasn’t earned voters’ trust. That we appreciate, yet also wonder if more than dissatisfaction with Trump lurks between their lines. Certain columns at times seem to reveal more anger toward “justifiably angry” Trump fans than Trump himself. Such a mindset -- especially when published in prominent venues -- will likely not expand the GOP tent, but shrink it. It may also serve to make its entrance less appealing to seekers.
Perhaps the most curious example is the brilliant writing of NRO’s Kevin Williamson, who in a recent column described Trump fans as “daft followers,” “engaged in the political version of masturbation: sterile, fruitless self-indulgence” and “Trumpkins -- the intellectually and morally stunted Oompa Loompas who have rallied to the candidacy of this grotesque charlatan.”
A look at the twittersphere response to that article revealed more. Noah Rothman tweeted a link to Williamson’s column with: “Man. This piece. @KevinNR grabs Trump supporters by the... well, you know.”
Grabbing Trump supporters in that way is an interesting conservative tactic -- and left me wondering in which direction said supporters were going to be pulled -- into the waiting arms of party counselors and directed to a more traditional sort of candidate, or out the tent’s back door.
I couldn’t resist a tweet back to Rothman and Williamson: “Clever writing that reveals more dislike for Trump's fans than hate for Trump. What a great ‘bigger tent’ strategy.”
The answer I received from Williamson: “There's no tent big enough.”
For whom does he mean, I wonder?
Other conservatives have been tweeting more insults. Stephen Kruiser: “What will all the slobbering Trump fans do when he inevitably grows bored & tosses them aside? Candlelight vigil at Ron Paul's house?”
That comment was retweeted by Dave Swindle. When I participated in a short exchange with Swindle about the repercussions of calling fellow Republicans “slobbering,” he answered: “GOP can forge a winning coalition without digging through bottom of the barrel for naive, easily manipulated stupid people.”
I didn’t tweet this retort, but felt like it: “I’ll bet Democrats will be drooling as they wait in the wings near that barrel’s bottom.”
This comment by another individual: “Erickson noting that the Trump fans calling the President ‘an N word’ and Megyn Kelly are a whore are not people he wants at Red State” was retweeted by Rothman with the addition of one word: “Purge.”
I tweeted back to Rothman, aware of Erickson’s own history of unsavory comments: “Mmh…I don't think they sound like smart people either, but do you mean ‘purge’ these voters from the event, or from the GOP?” Rothman’s answer: “Bigots, sexists, and anti-Semites? Let them be homeless.”
NRO’s Jonah Goldberg tweeted this: “How Donald Trump became the dashboard saint of mouth breathing anti-Semites and white nationalists would be great subject for a novel.”
I hope that, as obviously did Trump when he talked about Mexican criminals and didn’t mean “all” Mexicans were criminals, Rothman nor Goldberg surely didn’t intend to imply that all Trump fans were “bigots, sexists and anti-Semites,” mouth-breathers or white nationalists.
Matt Walsh, however, did seem to mean “all” when he tweeted: “The real quandary is this: what do Trump supporters lack more -- intelligence, self-respect, or principles?”
Like Erickson, every conservative with a stage has every right to disinvite anyone from appearing on it. No conservative, however, can control the mindset of every person in the audience, just as they cannot expect that every party member is a perfect conservative. Nor should, as Jeff Goldstein tweeted, conservatives “accept or promote the premise that they own [everything that] putative supporters say,” for that is the “nail in the electoral coffin.”
Goldberg also described “wading through a river of pro-Trump tweets last night to the point where I felt like I was escaping Shawshank prison through a sewer pipe.” Surely, though, Goldberg has considered that hysterical posts of anonymous tweeters may not represent the views or intentions of the entire 20% of the party that supports Trump.
Probably neither does Goldberg mean for his insults to apply to all of that 20%, nor did Stephen Hayes when he wrote: “Turning to Trump to solve the problems in Washington is like turning to an ape to fix a broken refrigerator.”
But those kinds of remarks probably seem like a blanket insult to every single one of Trump’s supporters.
“It’s embarrassing,” continued Hayes, “but rather than embarrassment, the Trump followers will feel more anger and their pose will shift from self-righteousness to victimhood. And many of them will dig in further.”
Hayes is probably right about the digging, but somehow comparing Trump to an ape that voters would still call to fix their appliances -- without an acknowledgement that even Trump is more capable than any Democrat candidate -- is overshadowed by a fact of politics: Democrats never openly diss their own.
Democrats -- although they probably really do “hate the guts” of their voters -- never met a vote they didn’t love. As P.J. O’Rourke noted, Democrats are brilliant politicians and “Republican politicians stink,” but I would not go as far as to say that Republicans hate their voters. However, there are some GOP candidates and a few noted conservative pundits who openly ridicule fellow Republicans as stupid and are admittedly embarrassed to belong in the same party.
Democrats “love demographic groups,” explained O’Rourke, and they win by dividing and then conquering. They don’t send them and their votes packing. Instead they incite and then direct voters’ anger toward the other party.
Anger with the establishment and illegal immigration was already brewing among GOP constituents, and has been a key ingredient of Trump’s success. Andrew McCarthy wrote that we should “ignore [the ‘Trump boomlet’] and it will flame out on its own.” I have argued instead that a winning strategy would not ignore but take advantage of the fire Trump has lit under voters’ feet. But for conservative pundits to try to douse it and then wink and nod toward the nearest exit may be disastrous.
So would be making a martyr out of Trump.
One GOP leader who gets it is Ted Cruz:
“Donald Trump had a rally in Phoenix, Ariz. [to which] between 10 and 20 thousand people came out. When you attack and vilify the people at that rally as crazies, it does nothing to help Republicans win in 2016. I’d like every single person at that rally to show up and vote in 2016, knock on doors with energy and passion, and turn this country around. If Washington politicians show contempt and condescension to those [voters,] that is a path to losing at the ballot box.”
The GOP could certainly use a tent revival led by candidates and writers with a bold, authentic conservative message. Fire and brimstone sermons of condemnation or purification delivered from high pulpits, however, will probably not help increase the fold.