By Megan McArdle
IS IT time to Dump Trump?
Long past, #NeverTrumpers would say. Many of them in my vicinity have been wistfully speculating on the means, from convention coup to public-spirited time travelers, by which Donald Trump might be removed from the top of the Republican ticket.
But the case for doing so has become stronger with three pieces of news. First, the revelation that he has, to a first approximation, done none of the things necessary to build a viable campaign, such as raising funds or hiring staff. Second, he is trailing Clinton so badly that his supporters have already resorted to the kind of poll “unskewing” rituals that are traditionally reserved for the first week of every fourth November. And third, Nate Silver has released his election forecast on his FiveThirtyEight blog, giving Trump just a 20-26 percent chance of winning the election.
So let us consider three questions:
1. Would the Republican Party be better off if they staged a coup at the convention and substituted another candidate?
2. Does the Republican Party have a moral right to stage such a coup?
3. Can the Republican Party manage to pull it off?
The answer to the first question is, I think, simply obviously “Yes.” Consider the magnitude of Trump’s campaigning incompetence. He is, at this late date, just learning basic political skills such as writing speeches down and reading them off a teleprompter, rather than blurting out whatever offensive slur or made-up factoid that happens to pop into his head while standing at the podium.
He has completely failed to master such basic political skills as phoning people up to ask them for money, or hiring professionals who know how to court donors and voters and get everyone out to the polls come election day. July of an election year is not the ideal month in which to commence these important learnings. Also, the things he said while he was in the “random blurting” stage have made many of the Republican Party’s professionals unwilling to work with him, either because they are personally offended, or because they are afraid that they’ll never be able to scrub the stain off their careers.
Other Republican politicians are keeping as much distance as they can. Leaving this man on top of the ticket in November will not only mean probably losing the presidency, but bring a down-ticket disaster for the party.
FiveThirtyEight is only forecasting the presidency so far, but their forecast matches the forecast of prediction markets, which also place the odds of Republicans losing the Senate at 60 percent, and losing the House at almost 20 percent. In other words, if you believe the betting market, the chances that Hillary Clinton gets to be president with solid majorities in House and Senate are on par with Trump’s chance of getting to be president at all. And I think the odds of losing the House are probably understated.
While we tend to focus mostly on the presidency, a party is a much larger entity that needs to build a coalition to wield power—and for this reason, the fates of its members are strongly intertwined. In a presidential election year, candidates for the House, Senate, and even local elections get a free ride on the presidential campaign efforts. People voting for your party’s presidential candidate will probably also vote for your party in the House and Senate.
Getting people to the polls is hard. This is not like a primary, where you need a relatively small number of highly motivated voters to come out and swing the election your way; this is the Big Game, where you need to get well north of 60 million folks into the ballot booth. By definition, the last 10 million or so are going to be the ones who aren’t that interested in politics, and need a little push to get them to take the time out of their day. That’s why candidates spend so much time building up their get-out-the-vote operations.
Trump so far has shown no signs of developing either the money or the campaign infrastructure to mount the kind of operation that the typical Republican presidential candidate would put on, which helps shore up down-ticket races even when the candidate loses (as Mitt Romney did in 2012). We’re looking at potentially the first race in modern electoral history where one side has a competent, well-funded presidential campaign moving voters to the polls, and the other one has Donald Trump trying to do it all with free media and Trump-branded merchandise that doubles as advertising for his business. So unless something changes, the polls and models are probably overstating his actual performance, with horrific potential results for Senate and House candidates in competitive races.
Trump supporters might justly protest that he won the nomination fair and square, and the party has no right to rob him of his due. I’ve thought long and hard about this. But overall, I think the party does have the moral right to remove Trump.
Even if dumping Trump causes some of his supporters to stay home, getting someone else to lead the ticket would at least enable the party to raise the funds and staff a campaign that could help other Republican candidates. And of course, some of the losses would be made up by recovering #NeverTrump voters. The object at this point is not to win the presidency; it’s to keep from losing everything else.