Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Wedge Candidate

The classic definition of a wedge issue in politics is an issue that divides the other party but unites yours.  You hammer that issue in order to tear the opposing party apart.  Of course, the concept also encompasses similar situations—maybe there is an issue that splits both parties, but that has far higher salience to the other party, so it functions like a wedge issue (even though technically your party is also divided).

Anyway it occurs to me that Donald Trump is a wedge candidate.  Democrats almost universally despise him.  Many Republicans like him, but a significant minority also hate him.  This is what is making life so difficult for people like Rob Portman and Kelly Ayotte.  They are in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation, because they cannot afford to alienate Trump's supporters and they cannot afford to be closely associated with him.  They are at the tip of the wedge.

This is the salience of the suggestion that you sometimes hear that down-ballot Republicans should repudiate Trump and run on the proposition that Clinton must be checked by a Republican Congress.  The point there would be to commit to one side of the wedge and make the best case for the anti-Trump Republican vote.  Of course, the cost is that it hamstrings the Trump campaign.  (It also might not work, but that is a "cost" of every strategy.)

Of course, the down-ballot Republicans could also embrace Trump.  This would unify the party and essentially turn the entire race into a referendum on the parties and their presidential candidates.  It might maximize the overall chances of Republican victory, but it would so strongly correlate the Republican victories that it would risk a scenario in which the Democrats mop up.

This is why the polls have immediate significance.  They help determine how the players will orient themselves going into the fall.  Trump's disastrous convention and the even more disastrous couple of weeks that followed it have delayed and perhaps foreclosed the unification of the party.  Of course it is always going to vary by state.  But a lot of resource-allocation decisions are national, and Trump's total unconcern for anyone but himself must also be weighing on people's minds.

Anyway it is an interesting game to watch.  My hunch is that down-ballot Republicans are by and large going to be successful at detaching themselves from Trump in the voters' minds, but maybe the Democrats will stick it to them.  ("Will you vote to hold a hearing for Merrick Garland?  Why not, are you trying to hold the seat open so Donald Trump can make the appointment?  If so, what do you think about his judgment?"  Etc. etc.)

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