Erick Erickson is editor of the Resurgent.
Republicans like to point out how disastrous President Barack Obama’s tenure was for the Democratic Party. During his presidency, Democrats reached new lows in state legislative, gubernatorial and congressional seats. More than 1,000 state and federal seats moved to the GOP. And though many prefer to blame James B. Comey or Russia, there can be no question that Democratic losses in 2016 were compounded by an inept Clinton campaign team that ignored the plight of working-class Americans in the Rust Belt, focusing instead on people who looked and thought just like they did.
Donald Trump was able to connect with voters with whom he had nothing in common largely because the Clinton campaign left a vacuum on the other side of the aisle, which Trump gladly filled. Nonetheless, throughout 2016 I maintained my opposition to Trump for three reasons, two of which are increasingly, worryingly relevant.
First, I did not think Trump could beat Hillary Clinton. When it came to the popular vote, of course, he did not, but thanks to roughly 70,000 people in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, he won the presidency.
Second, I thought that Trump, even if he won, would be deeply destructive to the national fabric and to the conservative ideas I support.
Third, I strongly believed that Trump lacks moral character and that he sets a bad example both for my children and for people of faith. I repeatedly said throughout the campaign that if God wanted Trump in the White House, he would not need Christians to dirty themselves to make it happen.
Unfortunately, while I was wrong about my first concern, I am increasingly worried about the latter two. Trump’s evangelical Christian supporters often told me that whether we liked Trump or not, we needed him to save the Supreme Court. My response remains that four years of Clinton appointing judges, while awful, would be nothing compared with a generational wipeout of the GOP. Watergate may have turned Charles Colson from hatchet man to pastor, but the defense of President Trump is turning a lot of pastors into hatchet men. Few people come away from Trump’s orbit without compromising their characters.
A Republican reckoning is on the horizon. Voters are increasingly dissatisfied with a Republican Party unable to govern. And congressional Republicans increasingly find themselves in an impossible position: If they support the president, many Americans will believe they are neglecting their duty to hold him accountable. But if they do their duty, Trump’s core supporters will attack them as betrayers — and then run primary candidates against them.
Through it all, voter dissatisfaction has been growing. Trump’s core might stand with him, as he claimed, even if he killed someone in the middle of the street. But would those 70,000 voters who put him in the White House? As the president acts more irrationally and his Twitter rantings become more unhinged, will he draw more people to himself and his party than he will repel? I suspect not.
The president exudes incompetence and instability. Divulging classified information to the Russians through bragging; undermining his staff’s defense of his conduct through inane tweets; even reportedly asking the FBI director to suspend an investigation of a former adviser — all these strike me not so much as malicious but as the ignorant actions of an overwhelmed man. Republicans excuse this behavior as Trump being Trump, but that will only embolden voters who seek greater accountability to choose further change over stability. The sad reality is that the greatest defense of the president available at this point is one his team could never give on the record: He is an idiot who does not know any better.
It is becoming ever clearer that Trump has the potential to cause more damage to the Republican Party than Obama did the Democrats. While there is no doubt the Democrats saw serious electoral setbacks under Obama, there remains a key difference here: Obama is deeply respected and liked by a majority of voters. Trump is increasingly disliked, and the Republicans who enable him are increasingly distrusted.
With a horde of vocal Trump supporters cheering on every inane statement, delusion, lie and bad act, the majority of the American people can be forgiven for thinking the GOP as a whole has lost its mind. The Republicans may soon lose a generation of voters through a combination of the sheer incompetence of Trump and a party rank and file with no ability to control its leader.
Trump still thinks he stands in contrast to Clinton, when in reality, for voters watching the chaos unfold, he stands in contrast both to a more level-headed Vice President Pence and an unknown generic Democrat — neither of whom constantly reminds people of their incompetence. Unless Republican leaders stage an intervention, I expect them to experience a deserved electoral blood bath in November 2018.