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“The Simple Answer Is Donald Trump”: Why Republicans Couldn’t Make 2016 Their Version of 2008

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, wave as they wait in an airplane hangar in Hagerstown, Maryland, Sunday, April 24, 2016.

Parties exist in large part to bring order and stability to politics. When you go into the voting booth in November, you’ll be confronted with a bunch of races you know nothing about, but the party affiliations of the candidates will tell you almost everything you need to know in order to make reasonable choices. You can predict much of what a candidate for county council will do just by knowing which party she represents—and that goes for president, too.

Yet every four or eight years, the parties have to offer the country something entirely new for the office of the presidency, something that will be untainted by the party’s past mistakes and perfectly positioned to take advantage of the other party’s more recent ones. And only when timing and individual ambition come together can a party give the country exactly what it’s looking for.

Republicans had hoped that they could achieve that this year, that it could be for them what 2008 was for the Democrats: an election they’d always remember, when they rid themselves of a president they hated and swept into the White House someone they were truly excited about, who carried their dreams with him and brought a majority of the nation around to their way of seeing things. But it won’t happen.

Why not? The simple answer is “Donald Trump,” but it’s more complicated than that.

To understand why, let’s recall what 2008 was like—though you could make a similar comparison to 2000, 1992, 1980, or 1976. In all those elections, one party offered a candidate who seemed to embody everything the president whom voters were rejecting had failed to be. And critically, that candidate was both what his party wanted and what the country was ready for.

In 2008, Barack Obama really did represent Democrats in a multitude of ways. He was African-American, from the party’s largest and most loyal constituency group. He was from one of America’s largest cities, in a party that finds its greatest strength in growing urban areas. And perhaps most of all, he was the kind of person so many Democrats would like to see themselves as: thoughtful, intellectual, urbane and cosmopolitan, the kind of guy who can talk literature with Marilynne Robinson, croon the opening of “Let’s Stay Together,” and help Steph Curry work on his jump shot.

And the nation as a whole was open to the kind of change he represented. So could Republicans have found someone to do the same thing this year? On the simplest level, it’s a much greater challenge now than it was then. In 2008, the most important change Democrats wanted—getting rid of George W. Bush—was the same change the country was looking for. That’s not the case with Republicans today. Barack Obama’s approval rating is right around 50 percent, which in this severely polarized era is somewhere between solid and excellent. At this time eight years ago, on the other hand, Gallup measured Bush’s approval at an abysmal 28 percent.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of dissatisfaction out there waiting to be activated. But it’s worthy of note that even in previous elections where candidates succeeded by portraying themselves as anti-establishment figures ready to shake up the status quo—Bush did it in 2000, Bill Clinton did it in 1992, Jimmy Carter did it in 1976—those candidates never used anti-Washington rhetoric that was as angry and bitter as what we’ve heard from Republicans this year. Instead, they said they’d transcend partisanship and bring a new spirit of conciliation and integrity.

Maybe nobody believes that kind of thing anymore, no matter what their party. But if Obama embodied Democrats in 2008 (and still does), who embodies today’s Republicans? It certainly wasn’t someone like Marco Rubio, whom everyone seemed to agree was the most palatable candidate to the general electorate. He was supposed to be the new face of the GOP, and he opened his presidential campaign by saying that “The time has come for our generation to lead the way toward a new American century,” and that “yesterday is over, and we are never going back.”

But that’s not what Republicans turned out to want—in fact, going back to yesterday is exactly what they’re after. They’re looking not just for someone who isn’t Barack Obama, but a wholesale reversion to the past, to a time when hierarchies of home and community were clear, when the nation’s culture was their culture, before “diversity” became something people were supposed to value. So it’s no accident that their favored candidate is a 69-year-old white man who tells them he can “Make America Great Again” by tossing out immigrants, keeping out Muslims, and building enormous walls.

Donald Trump is the opposite of Barack Obama, and not just because he’s old and white. Impulsive, shallow, ignorant, prone to emotional outbursts and consumed with every petty slight, Trump couldn’t be more different from “no drama” Obama. That’s what Republicans wanted, at least a plurality of them. The problem is that the broader voting public doesn’t yet seem to be demanding the opposite of Obama, at least if Trump is what that means.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, April 25, 2016

April 27, 2016 - Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Establishment, Republicans | , , , , , , , ,

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