“GOP Convention Chaos”: The Next Three Months Will Be Awful For Republicans — And Good For Democrats
Three months from now, on July 18, the Republican Party will open its convention in Cleveland, to be followed a week later by the Democratic convention in Philadelphia. A lot is going to happen in those three months.
But it’s not too early to predict that most of it is going to be good for the Democrats and bad for the Republicans.
At this point in the campaign, both parties have a straightforward, though by no means easy, set of tasks. They each want to get their nomination settled, unify and motivate their own voters, and start making their case to the broader electorate that will vote in the general election. Democrats will have an easier time on all counts.
While we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen in the upcoming primaries, at the moment we can say that Hillary Clinton will almost certainly have the Democratic nomination wrapped up by the end of the primaries in June. Donald Trump, on the other hand, may or may not have the Republican nomination in hand at that point. Right now FiveThirtyEight’s projections show Clinton running at 108 percent of what she needs to meet her target for the nomination, while they have Trump at 95 percent of what he needs, meaning he could well fall short.
The possibility that he won’t win 1,237 delegates, triggering a contested convention with multiple votes, is consuming the Republican Party (and the media) right now. That means that all of the discussion on the Republican side is about the process, with Trump complaining about unfairness, Ted Cruz supporters talking about their plan to snatch the nomination on the second or third vote, and everyone speculating madly about the drama that will ensue in Cleveland.
And what are the consequences of that discussion? The first is that it prevents Republicans from talking about issues. This came up earlier this week when Ted Cruz was being interviewed by Sean Hannity, who asked Cruz about his efforts to persuade delegates to shift their votes on a second or third ballot. Cruz responded: “Sean, with all respect, that’s not what people are concerned about,” and tried to shift the discussion back to issues. Hannity was having none of it: “I’m asking you more than a process question, it’s an integrity of the election question, and everybody is asking me this question.” That’s a microcosm of the entire Republican race at this point.
There’s some of that kind of talk on the Democratic side, but not nearly as much. Which means that while Clinton and Bernie Sanders are talking about issues — which can at least in theory win more voters to the Democratic cause — voters only see Republicans consumed by these process questions.
That’s not to mention the fact that the process argument serves to divide Republicans, stoking longstanding resentments and making Trump supporters dislike Cruz and Cruz supporters dislike Trump. The debate on the Democratic side, even if it highlights some differences between Clinton and Sanders, still reminds Democratic voters of what they all have in common and what differentiates them from Republicans, while the debate on the Republican side only deepens their internal divisions.
Don’t be surprised if in the coming days you hear Hillary Clinton talking much more like a general election candidate, reaching out to all voters and contrasting herself with Donald Trump. She’s already shifting to unifying rhetoric; in her victory speech last night, she said, “To all the people who supported Senator Sanders: I believe there is much more that unites us than divides us” (though she also repeated her now oft-used line about how identifying problems is not enough, you also have to propose solutions, which is a jab at Sanders).
So while Trump is complaining about being treated unfairly and predicting chaos in Cleveland, Clinton can talk to voters about raising the minimum wage, supporting clean energy, reforming immigration, and a whole range of other issues where the Democratic position is more popular than the Republican one.
And she’ll have help: Priorities USA, the most well-funded Democratic super PAC, is planning on spending $90 million on broadcast ads and another $35 million on online ads promoting Clinton in swing states over the summer. My guess is that they’ll spend a lot of that money reinforcing people’s negative opinions of Trump, to make it harder for him to pivot away from everything he’s said in the primaries in order to present a friendlier face for the general election.
Even little things, like the selection of a running mate, will probably work to Clinton’s advantage. Though that choice doesn’t have a profound effect on the final outcome of the race, Clinton will get a few days of positive news coverage out of her selection, with stories all about this person filled with admiring quotes from Democrats.
Republicans, on the other hand, may not even know who their vice presidential nominee is until the convention, if Trump hasn’t secured the nomination before then. The selection will then happen in the middle of all the convention’s chaos, so it won’t be the media’s sole focus for any length of time. And call me crazy, but I’m guessing Donald Trump isn’t going to pick a running mate whom everyone will agree is a terrific choice.
Nothing is guaranteed, of course. Trump could do better than he’s currently projected to and secure the nomination before the convention, and everyone in the GOP might quickly rally around him. There could be some unexpected event, in the world or on the campaign trail, that changes the race’s agenda in the Republicans’ favor. But from the perspective of today, it looks like the next few months are going to be a rough period for the Republicans, in ways that make winning the general election even harder than it already was.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, April 20, 2016