Tuesday, April 12, 2016

What's the difference...

...between Mikhail Gorbachev and Donald Trump?

One was responsible for the dissolution of a creaky, old, bloated institution that had lived long past its sell-by date.

The other was the leader of the Soviet Union.

Now, I know what you're thinking: By many measures, the Republican Party is healthier than ever. And you'd be right. Not only do they control the House and Senate, but in the last seven years the GOP has also made great strides at the state and local level. From a recent piece in Bloomberg:

Depending on how you measure it, Democrats in Congress, governors’ offices and state legislatures have lost either a lot of seats or a ton of seats to Republicans since Obama moved into the White House. In the House of Representatives, Republicans have a commanding lead of 246 seats to 188 for Democrats (with one vacancy). Republican governors preside over 31 states while Democrats run only 18. Just seven states are under unified Democratic control of the governor’s office and legislature. For Republicans, the corresponding number is 22.

It's true. In many ways the Republican Party is at the height of its power. But . . . if you look at the map below you'll notice that the old Soviet Union was at its apex shortly before Gorbachev took office:

If you squint, or click on that map for a larger view, or are just a child of the '70s like me, you'll notice that Soviet influence was practically everywhere: Latin America, Africa, Afghanistan -- everywhere!

But, just like a wise old trader at the Merc once told me, the market always looks best at the high.

And, like the old Soviet Union of the 1970s, the Republican Party of today is ripe for a fall. From immigration to trade to taxes to entitlements to foreign policy to social issues to -- what have I left out? -- the GOP is not only out of touch with the rest of the country, but Trump has shown that the party is also out of touch with its own base.

Also, like the old Soviet Politburo, the Republican Party elites (those same people who are pushing the idea of Paul Ryan for president -- including Ryan himself) are falling back on tired, old party dogma. (The speaker of the House may not be so much of a "fresh face" as Karl Rove has alluded as a modern-day Republican Leonid Brezhnev.) If we only speak clearer or LOUDER, they seem to be thinking, surely the rabble would come to its senses and recognize the wonders of tax cuts for the rich.

So what happens between now and the Republican convention in Cleveland this summer? Well, either Donald Trump amasses the 1237 delegates necessary to win on the first ballot, or he shows up with a plurality of delegates and wins anyway, or he loses on the second or third ballot to Ted Cruz, or Paul Ryan wins on the fourth ballot, or some other scenario no one has yet envisioned. But, chances are, whichever candidate the Republicans eventually decide on will lose anyway in November. (The Democrats have too big of an advantage in the Electoral College.)

And what will be the long-term effect of Trump's campaign? It just may very well be the realization among the hoi polloi that the Republican Party has been, to quote Paul Krugman, "an engine designed to harness white resentment on behalf of higher incomes for the donor class."

While I don't expect the Party to actually break up, Soviet Union-style, I do think it may go into the wilderness for an extended period of self-examination. What will emerge? I don't know, but I doubt very seriously it will look like the Republican Party of today.

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