Days of Change

Fear of Failure | October 20, 2016

Richard Nixon was probably the last Republican to use his Republican credentials to successfully run a presidential campaign. Reagan ran against Nixon in the 1968 primaries and had to run against Gerald Ford twice. George W. Bush was an outsider, a Texas governor who wasn’t expected to be the nominee. No one wants to be part of the system, and nearly all of them are.

Donald Trump is certainly not a GOP insider. He’s changed parties five times and ran for the Reform Party nomination in 2000. In a weird way, however, he represents the GOP better than anyone. He’s their spirit animal. Trump and the GOP are so afraid of losing that they will give up long term gains to prevent short term and temporary losses. Every time Trump tried to moderate his position, he lost the adoration of the tiny fraction of the voting population who go to his rallies or forward racist Twitter memes to him.

Since the 2004 election, Republicans have had two good runs. In 2014, the GOP learned to coordinate their efforts with establishment Congressional candidates, but also to work with Tea Party candidates who found success, like Joni Ernst. However, 2010 may have been the most important lesson. That lesson wasn’t to listen to Glenn Beck or run against Obamacare. It was to put yourself in front of the voters with the full knowledge that you could either win or lose.

One reason why Republican candidates did so well in 2010 is that Tea Party supporters ran in races where other Republicans did not dare to run. Too many House races (and some Senate races) are uncontested, mostly because potential candidates fear the consequences of failure. Hopefully, even if Hillary Clinton is elected president, Republicans won’t lose their House and Senate majorities.

The Republican Party does its best work at the state and local level, winning races for Congress and governor, especially since most states are Republican, even if they have lower populations. Since population density pretty much determines party affiliation, Republicans need to make their stand in low-density states. In many countries, there isn’t even a president. The legislative majority chooses the leader. In the United States, the Congress theoretically controls important decisions.

This year may be the first where ticket splitting (in this case, voters choosing a Democrat for president and Republicans for other elected offices) has a significant impact on the federal government. If that is the case, the GOP needs to learn that winning the presidency is not the brass ring, especially if they exercise the power of Congress.

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