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History's first totally self-inflicted landslide defeat

There's a new poll out from the Washington Post. Donald Trump is running behind Mitt Romney in Virginia, ten points (or seven, if you throw in the third party candidates other than McMullin) behind Hillary Clinton. Romney lost Virginia to Barack Obama four years ago  by six.

One reason is doubtless that her running-mate, Tim Kaine, is a senator from Virginia. But the other is that Donald Trump has simply made himself unthinkable among large groups of voters the GOP absolutely has to carry in order to win Virginia. Northern Virginia, with its high concentration of high-income, college educated people, comes to mind.

Virginia- the quintessential "swing state," and before that reliably Republican- is deep blue this year. It is simply not in play. And the primary reason is that the Republicans nominated a candidate who is obnoxious to the very people to whom Virginia Republicans need to appeal. It's a pattern that's going on all over the nation.

Meanwhile, the author of the piece linked to above, Jim Geraghty, has another item on "NRO" that's a must-read for anybody interested in how this election year is going to go down in history. His premise: that this will possibly the first (probably landslide) defeat in our nation's history which has been wholly, and in every detail self-inflicted. The Republicans had everything going for them this year- a nation weary of a divisive administration of the opposite party, that party nominating an even more divisive and wildly unpopular candidate to succeed him, and probably the most impressive set of candidates either party has fielded in recent history should have made 2016 a GOP slam-dunk. Instead, it seems to be shaping up as a disaster.

Geraghty has included some interesting thoughts I've had myself about landslides past. Despite vitriolic portrayals by the opposition, both Barry Goldwater and George McGovern, while they might have been extreme for their times, were extremely decent men personally respected by ally and opponent alike. Interestingly, both were of the type who likely today would have  their own party memberships at their throats. They were very much inclined to work cooperatively with members of the other party and were well-liked on the other side of the aisle. Yeah, they would probably call Barry Goldwater a "RINO" these days! And McGovern voted for Bob Dole and Jerry Ford. The alleged anti-war wimp was, in fact,  a war hero who had volunteered after Pearl Harbor and flew 35 bomber missions over Germany and occupied Europe. William Buckley liked him personally and, as Geraghty points out, described McGovern as "the single nicest man I've ever met."

Geraghty might- by implication, if not in so many words- go just a tad too far in making his point. No, Rockefeller or Lodge or Scranton would not have beaten Lyndon Johnson in 1964 No, Ed Muskie or Hubert Humphrey or "Scoop" Jackson would not have beaten Richard Nixon in 1972. But any of them would have minimized the damage, and lost by far smaller margins than Goldwater and McGovern did. Their parties would not have taken the hits they did in Congress and down the ballot. Let's not get carried away with this; the nominations of Goldwater and McGovern, like the nomination of Donald Trump, were political blunders of the first magnitude  and cost their parties dearly.

But as Geraghty points out, they also redefined their parties for a generation. For the worse, in some respects, it's true. But nobody can doubt that today's Democratic party is George McGovern's Democratic party, not Lyndon Johnson's. And Barry Goldwater is far more the spiritual father of today's Republican party than are Dwight Eisenhower or Thomas Dewey or even Richard Nixon.

The point is that while Goldwater and McGovern might in some measure have been to blame for the dimensions of their defeats, the defeats themselves were inevitable. No Republican could have beaten John Kennedy's successor a year after the assassination, and the law-and-order frenzy of the early seventies would have made it very difficult for even the most conservative Democrat to have defeated Richard Nixon. Either election might have been closer had the losing parties nominated somebody else. But in neither case would the outcomes have changed.

But 2016 is another matter. This year, history was with the Republicans. This year, there seemed no way that they could lose. So what did the Republican voters (or a large plurality of them) do? They decided that winning the presidency and preserving the Supreme Court was less important than throwing a tantrum. They nominated a joke, a globally ignorant and psychologically unstable reality-TV buffoon who is probably less qualified to be president than anybody a major American party has ever nominated before. He has proceeded to act in a fashion so juvenile, outrageous, and frankly reprehensible that his success in November became utterly impossible.

But the Republican primary electorate loved it. The more unreasonable Donald Trump became, the better they liked it. The Triumph the Insult Comic Dog  Focus Group video I posted last night  makes the point eloquently. Satire though it may be, the response of the Trump supporters was a kind of microcosm of the Republican primaries. The voters were sick of logic. They were sick of decency. Trump caricatured these as "political correctness," acted like a spoiled eight-year-old, and it proved a formula for success. That is until the audience changed.

Even Trump might have won this November if he's kept his mouth shut, surrounded himself with competent advisors,  rigidly stayed on message,  and followed the advice of people who actually knew what they were doing. But narcissists have a hard time understanding that there is anybody who knows better about anything than they do, even about things about which they know nothing at all.

The result was a caricature of a candidacy which could and did win the support of a divided party motivated more by anger and frustration than by common sense. The Republicans nominated literally the only candidate they had whom the polls had consistently said would lose even to Hillary Clinton. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, they responded to the Democrats' impending nomination of the most unpopular candidate ever to receive a major party's nomination by nominating one even more unpopular.

They achieved a miracle. They made Hillary look good by comparison. Meanwhile, despite repeated talk of "resets" and "pivots," Trump goes on alienating and driving away the very people whose support he needs and convincing the electorate at large that he's out of his ever lovin' mind with new, incredibly stupid tweets and statements practically every day.

In the last analysis, Alf Landon, Adlai Stevenson, Barry Goldwater,  George McGovern, and Walter Mondale were beaten by history. But Donald Trump is in the process of beating himself, of taking the Republican party down to defeat in a year when history was trying to hand it the presidency and the Supreme Court on a golden platter. It will, as Geraghty says, the first self-inflicted landslide defeat in history.

Unlike Goldwater and McGovern,  Trump will not transform the Republican party. His supporters will be purged come November. But he will leave a legacy: the likelihood, especially if the Democrats win the Senate, of a socially radical Supreme Court for the next generation.

Few people who have spent their lives as  left-wing Democrats have achieved so much for the cause as has Donald Trump.


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