Presidential elections are very high stakes affairs; none more so than the 2016 election, which will result either in total Republican Party control of the federal government or four more years of divided government in Washington. For those who would prefer and/or benefit from total GOP control, this election holds the promise of tremendous public policy gains, while for those who would not prefer and/or benefit from total GOP control, this election presents the possibility of very harmful public policy changes. In other words, forget all the candidate-centric media hype because the most serious stakes are policy stakes.
This fundamental and indisputable framing of the election explains simply and clearly why, despite his indisputable unfitness for office, the GOP nominee has and will keep the support of his party’s base voters. I heard an evangelical Christian supporter of Trump on the radio this morning being grilled about his continuing support for Trump in the wake of the latest evidence of his candidate’s low moral character. While he did try to claim that he believes Trump’s apology and believes in the redemption of souls, he also made the real and rational case for the GOP nominee. He said in response to the interviewer that his support “is about policy.” Ironically, as he said this the interviewer ended the interview, but the truth did slip through. Religious and cultural conservatives do not care how evil Trump is personally because they assume that his election will pave the way for right wing social policy victories that have eluded them for decades.
The unrelenting personal assault on Democratic politicians (i.e. the “politics of personal destruction”) by religious conservatives (and GOP pols courting religious conservatives) over the past 50-plus years was not, in fact, personal.Reflexively jumping on any conceivable (and many inconceivable) claims of dishonesty or corruption that could be leveled at Democratic politicians has always been about policy. For religious conservatives, its been about social policy issues, like abortion, gay rights, teaching evolution, and the advancement of secular over Christian values in modern American society. The reason these efforts have always been focused on individual politicians, and have been framed as personal moral failings common among liberals is really quite simple: A focus on the substance of conservative social policy positions has long been a politically dangerous approach at the national level, which, of course, is why even their patron saint President Ronald Reagan made little more than symbolic efforts to advance the social policy agenda of Christian conservatives.
Donald Trump’s candidacy is, in some significant part at least, a product of conservative mud-slinging strategies that have become the right’s most reliable and most potent rhetorical assets; assets that have become central not only to tearing down Democrats, but also to energizing and mobilizing the Republican Party’s base voters. As a number of scholars have pointed out, the intellectual and rhetorical center of gravity in the modern GOP has, thanks in large part to the domination of outrage-based conservative media outlets and figures in defining what is and what is not authentically conservative, moved decisively right and decisively anti-intellectual.
Donald Trump’s candidacy is (ironically enough) “A DISASTER” for religious conservatives because it exposes their “ends justify the means” morality, though to say that it reveals their hypocrisy is, frankly, both too easy and not particularly useful. What it exposes is their policy rationality. What it exposes is the reason why it has been quite rational of them to use manufactured “character” and personal “values” issues to muddy the public opinion waters in order to advance anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-science public policy proposals.Hardline social/cultural conservatives support policies that have become political poison in American national politics.
While “establishment” Republicans from Reagan on have always understood this reality; they have never been willing to trade the electoral advantages of an energized religious conservative base for the long term moral and intellectual credibility of the Republican Party. This long term dilemma for GOP pols is playing out right now in real time as nervous Republican candidates struggle with the choice of sticking with The Donald and his die hard supporters or salvaging their integrity and political futures by dumping The Donald at the potential cost of many of those same die hard supporters’ votes next month.
Donald Trump’s candidacy destroyed the only possible politically viable electoral strategy for conservative Republicans, which was to make the 2016 presidential election about the personal immorality and corruption of Hillary Clinton the primary issue in the campaign, and thus distract voters from the specifics and potential consequences of conservative public policy positions. With the folly of right wing policy ideas on full display in the Tea Party-dominated Republican Congress, a presidential nominee running on conservative public policy proposals was never a realistic option. Unfortunately for the GOP, nobody told the party’s loudest and most influential leaders with the party’s base supporters that the policies they demand are sure losers on Election Day, which is why a ridiculously unqualified nominee with apparently AMAZING publicity and self-marketing skills and an attractive antipathy to "establishment" pols in both parties was able to engineer a hostile takeover of the Republican Party using the dispirited and demoralized ground troops of the losing side in America’s Culture War.
Trump is God’s answer to the Christian Right’s prayers for American theocracy.On November 8th, all Americans will hear God’s answer to these prayers loud and clear … NO!