Donald Trump is in serious trouble. We do not yet know where the story will end, but we do know that he is being investigated by a special prosecutor, that his son, his son-in-law, and his campaign manager all had meetings with Russians, and that he by his own admission fired FBI director James Comey over “the Russian thing”. It seems more and more likely that Trump colluded with Russia, and we are left to ask who knew and who didn’t (Was Pence involved? Was Ryan?) and whether a GOP-majority Congress would under any circumstances impeach a GOP president. I hope that the answer is yes, as loyalty to the president – any president – has no place in Congress; Congress is meant to be a check on the executive branch, regardless of the party allegiance of the person currently in the White House.
However, assuming that Trump is in fact either impeached or resigns (more or less reluctantly) as the investigation proves beyond even a shadow of doubt that he colluded with Russia to win the presidency, how does the GOP move on? How do you ever recover from having elected a man like Donald Trump? Here’s what I believe the GOP will do:
- “Trump never got a majority of the primary vote.” First of all every GOP representative will in the future point out that Trump did not win the support of a majority of GOP primary voters. Trump got about 45 %; a strong plurality for sure, but not a majority. “Most of us never wanted that guy in the first place,” they will tell everyone who will listen. This is true on paper, but it conveniently leaves out the part where the GOP went along with the coronation rather than freeing the delegates.
- “Trump was made nominee by newcomers.” Last year’s primary saw record turnout, mainly because people who had never voted in a primary before decided to go out and vote for Trump. Hence, the GOP can claim that Trump caused an infusion of people who weren’t “real” Republicans that hijacked the party and helped him win. Of course, real Republicans would never have nominated such a horrible man, but gosh darnit these new voters thought he was amazing. There is some truth to this, but the seeds of the movement that would elect Trump began much earlier – the idea that anyone who stands up for the establishment and bashes liberals is good is an idea that has been spread by many conservative talk radio hosts for decades, and the emergence of the Tea Party did not exactly make the situation any better.
- “The media created Trump.” This will no doubt be a part of the GOP post-Trump narrative. The idea that Trump is a media creation, fueled in the primary by billions worth of free media from mostly liberal outlets. Essentially the GOP will argue that the liberal media that bashes Trump and the GOP today actually wanted him to be nominated because it improved their ratings and they figured he’d crash and burn in the general election – or if he didn’t, they’d get a really entertaining president who would keep ratings high for years. There is some truth to this statement as well – without the free media that Trump received, he never would have been the nominee. It is also true that media didn’t really start fact-checking Trump until the general election and barely even then. Nobody really pushed him for details on his plans. However, this statement ignores that the most favorable media that Trump received was from Fox News, a traditionally Republican-friendly network whose journalists and pundits should have seen him for what he was and confronted the viewers with the truth.
- “It’s a conspiracy.” This is not something that will be said out loud, at least not by “respectable” GOP representatives and pundits, but it’s something that will none the less be strongly implied and hinted at every once in a while. Trump was a democrat and a long-time friend of Hillary Clinton. During the primaries many people speculated that he could be a “pawn” working for the Clinton campaign to destroy the Republican brand and possibly split the party with a third party run, eerily similar to what happened both times when Bill Clinton ran for president and a billionaire (Ross Perot) showed up to split the Republican vote. Maybe this was the Democrats’ plan all along – their liberal networks gave Trump the free media he needed to get the nomination, Trump is approached by Russia (whom HRC/Obama “reset” relationships with a few years back), and accepts their help. Maybe Trump was even working with the DNC all along? After all, with Trump gone, whoever replaces him (and it might not be Pence) will likely be a lame duck president. The Democrats sacrificed the White House for one term, but they tarnished the GOP with the “traitor” label for a generation. Of course, this conspiracy is nonsense, but that doesn’t mean that the GOP won’t subtly hint at it to reflect some of the blame. It is also possible some may hint that since Russian meddled in the general election, perhaps they meddled in the primaries as well? Again, this (almost certainly) did not happen, but that’s irrelevant.
But if that’s what the GOP most likely will do, that begs the question – what should they do? What would be the best course of action for a Republican party desperate to move on from Trumpism? Here are a few of my ideas:
- Apologize. The truth is that if the GOP has in fact nominated and supported a man who colluded with enemies of the US to win the presidency, then the first thing to do is to grab the ash and sackcloth and go in front of the camera. There is really nothing to add here; whatever the Democrats may have done at some point or another, the GOP owes the American people a sincere apology without any reservations.
- Change leadership. We still don’t know how deep the ties go, how many people were involved and exactly what happened. However, the GOP leadership have done their very best to protect Trump from justice, and in doing so they have morally bankrupted themselves. In short, the future GOP must be led by NeverTrumpers – ideally socially conservative NeverTrumpers like Ben Sasse. Those who stood firm against Trump must inherit the party to give it a chance to rise from the ashes.
- Reform the primaries and introduce STV. STV or Single Transferable Vote, also known as Ranked choice voting, means that voters in a primary (or general election) vote by ranking the candidates. The First preference votes are counted first, and if no candidate has an outright majority, the candidate who receives the lowest number of first preference votes is eliminated and his supporters’ votes are spread out to the different candidates based on their 2nd preferences. In a scenario like last year when Trump would get 45 % of the vote in a state and Kasich/Cruz split the remaining 55 %, it would have been possible to stop Trump by having all Cruz voters list Kasich as their second choice, and vice versa. That way, if Cruz received fewer first preference votes than Kasich, his votes would be transferred to Kasich and likewise if Kasich got fewer than Cruz. Cruz/Kasich would just have to convince their supporters that whoever they preferred between the two of them, Trump was the worst option and so they should rank their votes tactically to avoid him winning. Of course, if there were say 5 candidates the candidate that finished fifth would be eliminated, then the candidate that finished fourth etc. until someone had a majority.I’m absolutely convinced that had STV been in effect last year, Trump never would have won. Even months into the primary Trump had terrible favorables among GOP voters; the problem was that while the NeverTrump faction was bigger than the Trump faction, the NeverTrump faction splintered among several candidates, none of whom could get a plurality and actually win. STV solves that problem and effectively means that a candidate has to strive to be “liked by many, hated by none” – in other words; get a sizeable chunk of the party to vote for you as their first choice, and the rest to have you as their second (or even third).
- Confront “conservative” media. This may sound weird since we’re usually talking about liberal media. But while the liberal media is biased, there isn’t much any conservative can do about that. Instead, focus has to be on cleaning our own house. The truth is, a lot of conservative media is at least as dangerous as the liberal media. Talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh benefit from the GOP being in opposition, because the GOP in opposition means they get to rile up their viewers against the Democrats in charge. Governing is so much harder – it requires dialogue and compromise with your opponents, it requires the setting of reasonable goals and expectations. It requires you to recognize that your opponents also want what’s best for the country and find common ground. Unfortunately, none of that “common ground” stuff gets you ratings if you’re a talk show host. If you want listeners, it’s better to spend every other show ranting about how liberals are secret communists who are plotting to turn the US into a sharia law-proletarian dictatorship-vegan hipster-paradise. Of course, we can’t ban the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity from spewing their poison, but we can confront them and the conflict of interest they face: On paper they support the GOP, but from a financial viewpoint they’re better off with the GOP in opposition.Without “conservative” talk radio hosts and media personalities like the aforementioned Sean Hannity, it’s highly unlikely Trump would have won the nomination. In the future all GOP representatives and candidates should boycott such media and stick to respectable conservative outlets (like the National Review). Everyone who profits from dividing the country and turning fellow Americans against each other should be shunned.
Whatever course of action the GOP takes, one thing should be clear to everyone involved: This is not normal. This is not just another scandal. Just another thing that time will deal with. If the GOP did indeed nominate someone willing to betray the US to win an election, then this must mark the beginning of a long period of soul searching for the party. You do not get to nominate a Manchurian candidate and walk away like nothing happened. We can only hope and pray that the Republican party plays its cards right so that true conservatives may return to power as soon as possible.