Donald Trump's Super Tuesday dominance is further proof that the Republican Party is truly, profoundly broken.
Political parties, at their core, exist to do something simple: help their voters make good decisions by helping them decide whom to trust.
That function is necessary and important in a world as complex as ours. No normal human being can understand everything from trade relations with China to nuclear deals with Iran to insurance market regulation. Political parties are supposed to simplify those choices by directing us to politicians who share our values, our hopes, our dreams. The role they play is essential.
A political party's power to deliver on its mission comes from its credibility with voters. And the Republican Party has clearly, undeniably lost credibility with its base. The winner of Super Tuesday, on the Republican side, is Trump. The second-place finisher is Ted Cruz — the only politician Republican elites arguably hate more than Trump.
This is Republican voters rejecting the judgment — and thus the purpose — of the Republican Party, or at least of the elites who currently comprise what we think of as the Republican Party.
Could the Republican Party have stopped Donald Trump?
The constant refrain around Washington right now is that the Republican Party could have, and should have, unified to stop Donald Trump.
The theory goes like this: The Republican Party had the chance to off Trump early, but it didn't act quickly enough — and now it may be too late. If only officials had coalesced around Marco Rubio earlier, if only the Super PACs concentrated their fire on Donald Trump faster, if only Jeb Bush had dropped out before South Carolina, if only...
On Saturday, the New York Times published a deeply reported piece on the Republican Party's flailing, uncoordinated efforts to stop Trump. The message of the piece was that the GOP's efforts had been a Keystone Cops-style fiasco, their plans stymied by total incompetence and a total inability to coordinate.
But sometimes what looks like incompetence is really an institution failing to achieve the impossible. The most telling comment came deep in the report. "There's no single leader and no single institution that can bring a diverse group called the Republican Party together, behind a single candidate," said Fred Malek, treasurer of the Republican Governors Association. "It just doesn't exist."
I was on a call with a White House official once, asking why the administration didn't do this or that obvious thing. I've never forgotten his reply. Look, he said, we may have gotten it wrong. But all those things were considered and rejected by smart people who are way better at this stuff than you or me. It's almost never the case that there's an obvious right answer and everyone else was just too dumb to do the obvious thing until a bunch of pundits pointed it out.
Defensive? Sure. But correct, too.
The obvious problem with the Republican establishment ganging up to attack Donald Trump is that Trump's appeal is based on the fact that he's running against the Republican establishment. Their attacks are his proof of concept. He has welcomed their hatred this whole campaign because it makes him stronger. It proves that he's an outsider; it's evidence that he's not like all those other politicians who've fallen short time and again.
The same is true for the establishment pushing all the other candidates out of the race and uniting behind Rubio. For one thing, the Republican establishment doesn't have any tools to push the other candidates out of the race — personal entreaties, like the one the Times reports Mitt Romney made to John Kasich, have failed. But the other problem is it's not clear that a wave of establishment endorsements would actually help Rubio.
"You can consolidate all day long around whoever," Rep. Mark Sanford, a South Carolina Republican, told me, "but if the people perceive that candidate to be establishment or establishment-lite, they ain’t going to go that way."
Moreover Trump has, well, a Trump card — he can always run a third-party candidacy, as he's repeatedly threatened to do. The Republican establishment can only attack him so hard and so often before they run the risk of Trump ensuring Hillary Clinton wins the general election.
Even so, the Republican Party has made its feelings about Trump very, very clear
Given all that, the Republican Party has made its preferences pretty damn clear.
The GOP didn't, in political science parlance, "decide" on a single champion — no one candidate received the bulk of official endorsements before Iowa. But parties do more than decide; they also veto. And the Republican Party did try to veto Trump — as did everyone else. Trump has come under a coordinated assault from the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, and the media that is unlike anything in my lifetime.
The first Republican debate featured Fox News — arguably the single most powerful actor in the modern Republican Party — trying to cut Trump's candidacy to shreds. The harsh questioning, which touched on everything from his past heterodoxies to his friendship with Hillary Clinton to his misogyny, kicked off a feud between Fox News and Trump that continues to this day.
National Review, which acts as the official magazine of American conservatism, pulled contributors from every wing of the movement to write a Stop Trump issue. The festival of contributions — which included everyone from Glenn Beck to Erick Erickson to Bill Kristol — were clustered under the headline "Conservatives Against Trump." The magazine's own editorial was titled "Against Trump," and it began by calling Trump "a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones."
Moreover, for all the complaints that Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio didn't attack Trump hard enough, soon enough, the other Republican candidates launched scathing attacks on Trump — attacks that are unlike anything we normally see during a primary season.
"He's a chaos candidate, and he'd be a chaos president," said Jeb Bush.
"Donald Trump's candidacy is a cancer on conservatism and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised, and discarded," said Rick Perry.
"Donald Trump is a delusional narcissist and an orange-faced windbag. A speck of dirt is way more qualified to be president," said Rand Paul.
"Donald Trump is a narcissist and he's an egomaniac," said Bobby Jindal.
"He's a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot. He doesn't represent my party. He doesn't represent the values that the men and women who wear the uniform are fighting for. ... He's the ISIL man of the year," said Lindsey Graham.
Republicans have stopped trusting the Republican Party
This is how parties veto. They send signals. They mobilize their influencers. They use the media. Their most prominent politicians speak out. They make sure the party faithful know that this isn't our kind of guy, he doesn't believe what we believe, he isn't the kind of person we support.
Republicans know all that. They've heard their party. They've heard everyone else, too — the condemnations of Trump have been a nonstop clamor, a roar that's drowned out all other political coverage. But Republican primary voters just don't give a shit. It's worse than that — they like that Trump pisses off the establishment. The backlash only makes him stronger.
Everyone says this is an anti-establishment year, but elites are just mouthing the words; they still don't quite believe it. They still think that if only the Republican establishment had been a bit better organized, a bit quicker on the draw, they could have kept control. The truth is probably closer to the opposite.
The party doesn't have any magic powers. All it has is its credibility with its voters. And the Republican Party has, for whatever reason, lost its ability to influence its voters. Donald Trump is winning this thing, and so far Ted Cruz, the only guy elite Republicans hate more than Trump, is vying for second place.
The most dangerous sign for the Republican Party is that some of its most opportunistic politicians — like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Maine Gov. Paul LePage — see the writing on the wall. They spent the primary season mocking and fighting Trump. But now they're realizing that the voters they rely on for power really, truly like the guy and might actually nominate him. So they've gone where the power is and endorsed Trump.
Parties are vehicles for structuring information. Their role is literally to help voters decide by helping them choose whom to trust. The fact that Republican voters seem to prefer candidates whom their party is screaming not to trust reveals a profound failure in the GOP's core role. The Republican Party is truly broken.