Shane Vander Hart offered seven takeaways from the election. In this piece I’ll offer six of my own.
First, if you want to know why conservatives failed to stop Trump, it can be illustrated by all those moments in the debates when Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz stepped up to spar over the minutiae of who did what on some Senate bills. They were talking past the American people, talking about things the people didn’t care about in order to prove they were more conservative.
Many conservative groups turned the GOP nominating process into an inquisition and campaigns were run on the basis of proving themselves the candidate to be the one and only true conservative to rule them all and showing their opponents to be unabashed horrific phonies. The result was ripping apart good people and ensuring the nomination of the candidate conservatives least wanted. Ted Cruz personified this in his campaign. His was a campaign who checked all the conservative boxes, but really offered nothing to those who weren’t conservative diehards.
If conservatives can take one thing away from Donald Trump, it’s that you can’t walk around with a message over whether you’re the best person to get angels to dance on the heads of pins. You have to focus on connecting with people with a message that is conservative but broad enough to appeal to most Americans. In a way, Rick Santorum carried this message in 2012 but was dismissed as merely a religious candidate even if 90% of his rhetoric was dedicated to meat and potato issues that affected working Americans. Fortunately for Trump, the media couldn’t confuse him with a religious candidate.
Second, political pros and pundits have to reconsider the importance they assign to things like a “ground game” or organization. In the age of social media, “Get Out the Vote” efforts haven’t become obsolete but they have become less all-important. Facebook will tell you to go out and vote, your emails lists will tell you. If you really want to go vote, you will. GOTV isn’t dead by any means but it’s not the supreme advantage we often thought it to be.
Third, given how badly polls missed Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, the media should reconsider the horse-race centric coverage of political campaigns where Presidential candidates and their surrogates are constantly asked to explain and respond to one poll or another. Instead, we should have issue-based coverage that focuses on the important questions that face the American people rather than widely inaccurate polls. However, though they should, they won’t.
Fourth, celebrity is a powerful base for future candidates. The importance of early states like Iowa and New Hampshire may be dwarfed by the power of larger than life media images. Kanye West as the Democratic nominee v. Donald Trump in 2020 is a real possibility, particularly with the weak Democratic bench among office holders. Of course, the idea of President Kanye West sounds like a joke. But then again, so did the idea of President Donald Trump at the start of this year. Be prepared for a true reality TV election as The Apprentice faces off against Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
Fifth, no one has stuck their neck out more than social conservative leaders, and they need to hold Trump to his promises and to be a conscience to this administration. If, after four years, Christians think Trump looks a lot more like Nero than the Cyrus they were promised by every Christian leader, the credibility of these leaders may never recover.
Sixth, the Trump victory is a problem for the GOP long-term because it forestalls changes that will be necessary for the GOP and conservative movement. Trump essentially won based on the support of older white men. If older white men were an inexhaustible resource, this would be politically fine.
However, demographic trends show we are heading towards a date when there will no longer be a racial majority. It’s not only a moral decision, but a practical one to begin building bridges to racial and religious minorities as well as women. Unfortunately, Trump’s campaign activated the alt-right instead.
There are many young minorities that fear for their safety and millions others have been impacted by the racists that backed Donald Trump. There are also many women who have been turned off to the GOP thanks to Mr. Trump. The greater danger for the GOP is Trump’s victory masks the problems and then, through Trump’s demeanor, exacerbates the problems, driving voters the GOP has to win in the future deeper into far left identity politics, leading to a massive defeat in 2020.
The current status of the GOP coalition reminds me of Larry the Liquidator’s statement in Other People’s Money on how to go broke, “Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market. Down the tubes. Slow but sure.”