Right now, if you are an establishment Republican, you probably think that Donald Trump is likely to lose badly in November. But if you are an optimistic establishment Republican, you might argue that this could be a good thing — that the party could win by losing, since that defeat could prove to the anti-establishment/tea party crowd that nominating unelectable, extreme candidates like Trump just doesn't work. Indeed, some have made this very argument — often privately.
This is a fantasy. And Sean Hannity just demonstrated why.
On his radio show Wednesday, Hannity rather amazingly sought to pre-blame the Republican establishment for a Trump loss in 2016.
"If in 96 days Trump loses this election, I am pointing the finger directly at people like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham and John McCain and John Kasich and Ted Cruz — if he won’t endorse — and Jeb Bush and everybody else that made promises they’re not keeping," Hannity said.
He added: "I have watched these Republicans be more harsh toward Donald Trump than they’ve ever been in standing up to Barack Obama and his radical agenda that has doubled the debt, that has resulted in a 51-year low in homeownership in this country ... the lowest labor participation rate since the '70s, and that has led to millions and millions of Americans in poverty and on food stamps and out of the labor force. They did nothing. Nothing."
This pretty well encapsulates the GOP's post-Trump dilemma.
The GOP establishment will say Trump was simply not electable — that he alienated too many people and opened himself up to charges of being anti-woman, anti-Muslim and even racist. They will cite his lack of message control, grasp of the issues and his constant fight-picking. They will say he should have focused on bread-and-butter issues like the economy rather than calling his opponent "the devil" and the "founder of ISIS."
The likes of Hannity and other conservative talkers, though, will blame the GOP establishment for not sufficiently embracing Trump and giving him a chance to succeed. They will say, as Hannity did, that this lack of support for Trump is merely the latest in a long line of GOP capitulations, and proof the GOP establishment just doesn't get it. Some of them might argue a corollary: that Trump himself wasn't conservative enough on certain issues, and wasn't a true Republican (which he wasn't at all until a few years ago.)
In short, a Trump loss would provide a little something to bolster everyone's arguments — even if they're in direct opposition to one another. If you are predisposed to believe that the establishment is bad, you will find a way to blame them for Trump losing. If you are predisposed to believe that Trump was simply unelectable and a bad idea in the first place, you will find validation.
And it bears noting that the party has been fighting this internal battle for years, with no resolution and very little change. Nominating what many saw to be unelectable or at least far-less-electable Senate candidates like Todd Akin, Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle, Richard Mourdock and Ken Buck may have cost the GOP years of Senate control, but it hasn't caused the grass roots of the party to do soul-searching when it comes to avoiding more-extreme candidates. They just nominated Donald Trump, after all.
For years, many of these folks have been crying foul when the party nominated moderates like John McCain and Mitt Romney who went on to lose presidential elections. The idea that they'll suddenly fall in line with the party establishment's wishes if and when Trump loses just doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
And apparently, the fight over whom to blame for Trump's impending loss has already begun.