Pur Autre Vie

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

Monday, October 17, 2016

Solomonic Wisdom or Solomonic Threat?

I think it was in Cartoon History of the Universe, by Larry Gonick, that I read this interesting idea:  the Solomon "split the baby" parable is political in nature.  It was essentially a warning that he (Solomon) would split the baby (Israel) rather than allow one of his rivals to take the throne.

I've forgotten the details and I could easily have misremembered the whole thing.  But anyway I think this is an important part of the dynamic going on right now in the Republican Party.  Donald Trump, more than any other prominent Republican I can think of, can credibly threaten to damage the party if it displeases him.  This helps explain the dynamic where several Republican candidates unendorsed Trump, or called for him to step down as the nominee, only to re-endorse him a few days later.  Basically Trump's response to the wave of unendorsements was:  you're all traitors and I hope you lose!  This is...  abnormal.  Obama understood that red state Democrats had to run against him, and he didn't take it personally.  In fact he tried to help them (though of course he couldn't do it overtly).  Trump doesn't give a shit about the Republican Party and so he uses intimidation and threats to keep everyone in line.  A normal candidate would be like the baby's true mother, who would rather lose it than see it split in half.  Trump is the fake mother who is happy to split the baby in half.

It's hard to overstate how bad this dynamic is for the Republican Party.  Trump has all the leverage, and he will use it to bend the party to his will.  And it seems to me that the party lacks the institutional capacity to fight back.  A lot of the conservative movement's messaging comes from outside the party, and it is decentralized enough that Trump will always find plenty of outlets willing to amplify his message and/or take his side.  And the Republican Party can't win elections without Trump's voters.  (I am assuming many Trump voters will abandon him after his loss.  It seems clear, though, that he will retain enough support to be a spoiler for years to come.)

So while the party needs to disavow Trump, I'm not sure it can.  And any attempt to engage in damage control will be met with further sabotage.  In a fight between someone who cares about the baby and someone who doesn't, the advantage goes to the one who is willing to see the baby torn apart.

[Edited to add:

Of course this dynamic was on full display during the primaries, when Trump used the threat of a third-party campaign to cow the party.  You can't imagine someone like Mitt Romney doing that.]

[Edited AGAIN to add:

There's also a little bit of this going on with the general election.  If Clinton loses, she will concede and we will move on.  If Trump loses, he threatens to unleash a wave of anger and rejection of the results.  Unfortunately for him, it is pretty obvious that a Trump presidency would be worse than anything he can do when he loses, so it won't work.]


Blogger Grobstein said...

As a companion to my comment on your other recent post, let me say: it is a lot easier to disavow (i) a loser (ii) who no longer controls the national press.

So, again, here's hoping.

5:00 PM  

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