Nate Silver, stop fucking with us.
Last time I wrote about the election, I confidently projected that a Hillary win would cause turmoil for the country because Trump’s campaign was doing so much to delegitimize her. As I write this, a few hours before the first debate, 538 has the presidential election pretty much at a coin flip, with the Republicans likely to retain the Senate.
Obviously, I never expected to be here, and it’s worth pointing out why. There are two firewalls that I thought would protect a Clinton presidency from electoral shifts:
1) all else being equal, there’s no question that the Democratic and Clinton campaigns are better organized and better funded, and that’s going to translate into a few points during the election which don’t show up in current polling. It should be enough to tip a 50/50 race in her direction; on the other hand, if the large number of undecideds have a collective aneurysm and break for Trump, there’s not much that can be done.
2) the bigger firewall, I thought, were the Republicans themselves.
Let’s keep in mind that there was never a time when the possibility of a Trump presidency wasn’t viewed as horrible by a bipartisan majority of the country. The Republicans had the first crack at bat at this, with widespread mocking and condemnation of his primary run. When it started looking like he might take the nomination, the horror went mainstream, but in practice it was largely restricted to Republicans strategizing over how to manage the loss they’d presumably take in the general.
But now we’re pretty damn close to even, and one of the reasons is that the Republican party establishment is still acting like this is a normal candidate. Party mechanisms are grinding into place, party faithful are convinced the opponent is Satan, party money is flowing into campaign coffers.
The entire Republican party is Ted Cruz.
It’s important to make the distinction between the two ways the Trump presidency will be an utter disaster. It will be a partisan disaster. And it will be a nonpartisan disaster.
From a partisan perspective, the insane way we populate our Supreme Court, and the morbid death lottery that gives some presidents much more sway, guarantees that it’s going to be hell for one side or the other. Senate Republicans managed to ramp this up by adding one more winning raffle ticket to 2017. Barring political assassination (which our system bizarrely incentivizes), November is going to determine the direction of the Court for the probable rest of my lifetime.
In the Congress, it’s no less odd. A month ago, polls predicted a Clinton win with such dominance that the Senate would certainly switch, and there were good odds the House would as well. Today, a Trump win would mean certain domination of the Congress by the GOP. That’s in a month. There are many descriptors for this situation, but “stable democracy” is not one of them.
However, let’s also consider the much more important nonpartisan perspective. On nearly every measure you choose, Trump would upset the international order: foreign policy, international relations, economics and trade. His domestic law and order plans sound like the day before Kristallnacht. Most of what we take for granted as “normal” would be at risk, in much the same way that W upended generations of prior convention after 9/11 and dragged us, mostly smiling and approving, into a new security state.
There are any number of Republicans who think these changes are preposterous; one gets the impression that the actual percentage of Republican leadership who feel this way is far greater than the stated percentage. But for either venal reasons, or because they’re weighing the partisan more than the nonpartisan, they say nothing.
(And of course, thanks to the partisan considerations, there’s not a goddamn thing a Democrat can say that will be heard by most Republicans. This is what’s so infuriating about debate moderators saying that the truth is not their job; it guarantees it won’t be anybody’s job.)
Beyond that, however, a Trump presidency will be a nonpartisan disaster because the Republicans are not prepared to govern. The GOP is fractured between their establishment, the Tea Party, and the insurgent Trump voters. (And let’s not forget that their “establishment” used to be the right wing of the party in the 80s and 90s who drummed out the consensus-building moderates.) They deposed their own Speaker and hamstrung the next one. Their Senate leadership has had no agenda but obstruction the entire time they’ve been in power. They’ve had both Congressional houses; they could have moved legislation and attempted to work with a president and a party whose only tools were filibusters and vetos. They chose not to govern.
It’s not merely a partisan disaster when the entire government falls to this crew, it’s a nonpartisan disaster as well. The Senate filibuster becomes the only tool to prevent whatever legislation comes out of the febrile minds in the White House and the Tea Party. There’s no bipartisan “other side” to blame any more; it’s all on one party.
And that party would be led by President Trump. I have to believe that the sensible Republicans who wanted to increase their power are still wary of domination. Controlling all three branches of government simply isn’t in their playbook; it’s as frighteningly new as Trump would be. That’s not to say that they want to lose, but certainly they haven’t planned to win.
So now in the countdown to the debate, we’re all — that is, the bipartisan coalition of people who realize that Trump is a nonpartisan disaster — looking to Hillary to be masterful, and to Trump to melt down in a way that even his supporters can’t ignore. That appears to be the penultimate tripwire protecting us from electoral disaster.
Because the last firewall requires those Republicans who have fallen in line to stop doing so. And I don’t think they will.