While everyone focuses on Donald Trump’s fading prospects of winning the November presidential election, there’s a more important question at stake these next 13 weeks:
Is Donald Trump killing the Republican Party?
Although blind partisans — in unusual abundance this cycle — might wish for that, they really shouldn’t: Because the historic enduring success of the 240-year-old American democratic experience owes its vitality and longevity to the rough balance and competitive capability for change belonging to two of the world’s three oldest political parties.
The Democratic Party, which predated Britain’s Conservatives, assembled in 1832 around Andrew Jackson’s re-election bid. Republicans aggregated as an alternative in 1854 and won the White House in only their second competition, with Lincoln in 1860.
Thanks to President Barack Obama’s overreach, arrogance and missteps, the GOP had a good run in recent years. It captured the House of Representatives in 2010, enlarged its majority, then took tenuous Senate control two years ago as voters chose a divided government.
Beyond Washington, Republicans now hold 31 governor’s offices and both legislative houses in 16 of these states, important for current legislation but also as political training grounds for future office-seekers in bigger leagues.
Trump’s behavior has been, uh, nontraditional, and that won a record primary total from angry GOP voters in a crowded field. Now that he’s in a general election contest, Trump appears determined to help Hillary Clinton any way he can.
By all rights, Clinton should become the first major-party female presidential nominee to be crushed in a general election.
She’s been around long enough to accrue many enemies. She’s strident, an awful speaker and campaigner, and displays the stage charm of a terse librarian. In a speech the other day Clinton even read aloud her teleprompter reminder to “(sigh).”
Clinton’s inept State Department management certainly benefited Russia and hubby Bill’s speaking fees. But it led to a lawless Libya, ongoing Syrian carnage, the rise of Islamic State and that murderous Benghazi night.
Then there’s her “extremely careless” handling of national security documents on an unauthorized private email server, and ever since, her serial lies about it, documented by the FBI director.
A majority of Americans do not trust the woman who wants a third Obama term. And two of three think the country is on the wrong track.
The only thing going for Clinton is Trump, who’s “running” the most inept campaign of modern times, if getting elected is his goal.
The self-proclaimed self-funder is woefully underfunded, understaffed and unorganized. Clinton forces, more than 800-strong across the country, have already booked $98 million in autumn ads; Trump troops have scheduled barely $800,000.
Trump claimed that his ability to garner free media negated the need for major fundraising. But his free media since Cleveland has had nothing to do with critiquing Clinton or promoting GOP plans.
Nine of 10 Democrats say they’ll vote for Clinton, even reluctantly. Not quite 7 of 10 Republicans say the same of Trump.
So what’s Trump doing to expand his already-minority party? He’s gratuitously attacking Gold Star families and other Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan. It’s the politics of pique.
His unfavorables now average 60 percent, a 25-point gap with his favorable ratings. For comparison, in 1964 GOP nominee Barry Goldwater had only a 47 percent unfavorable rating. He lost 44 states.
Republicans fear the Trump impact on keeping the Senate — where the GOP defends 13 more seats this time than Democrats do — and perhaps even on a once-impregnable House majority.
History, however, suggests Republican resilience and reinvention. In 1912, the Republican Party seemed fractured beyond repair when former President Teddy Roosevelt challenged his GOP successor, Howard Taft. Together, they earned 50 percent of the popular vote but handed the election to Democrat Woodrow Wilson with 42 percent.
But only eight years later the Harding-Coolidge ticket took 37 states, restoring GOP White House dominance for 12 years. To end 20 years of Roosevelt-Truman terms it took a supreme allied commander, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, in 1952.
Richard Nixon won the Oval Office only four years after the Goldwater debacle. Ronald Reagan smashed Jimmy Carter’s re-election hopes in 1980, igniting an unusual three-term White House occupancy by the same party with himself and George H.W. Bush.
This year Clinton seeks to extend Democrats’ White House reign into a third straight term. Strangely, she may get it only because of the Republican nominee.
Andrew Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s. Follow him @AHMalcolm.