No doubt, should this expected defeat come to pass, Republican leadership will try to regroup and figure out what went wrong.
As in the last “autopsy,” the GOP establishment will probably conclude that it needs to broaden its appeal to demographics beyond older white men; that what prevented this more widespread appeal in 2016 was having a boorish, sexist, race-baiting, egomaniacal, undisciplined nominee; that if only it fielded a more genteel version of Trump, someone who espoused essentially the same fiscal and social policies but with more empathy, they’d have won the White House, and will win it once again.
This conclusion would be wrong.
The sickness in today’s Republican Party is not confined to its current standard-bearer. It is therefore not curable by merely disavowing, however belatedly, the soon-to-be-defeated nominee. The sickness has taken over the Republican base, and there’s only one antidote.
If Republicans truly want to save the Republican Party, they need to go to war with right-wing media. That is, they need to dismantle the media machine persuading their base to believe completely bonkers, bigoted garbage.
It is, after all, the right-wing radio, TV and Internet fever swamps that have gotten them into this mess, that have led to massive misinformation, disinformation and cynicism among Republican voters. And draining those fever swamps is the only way to get them out of it.
For a sense of just how misinformed Republican voters have become, consider a few of the provably wrong things many believe.
Seven in 10 Republicans either doubt or completely disbelieve that President Obama was born in the United States. Six in 10 think he’s a secret Muslim. Half believe global warming is possibly or definitely a myth concocted by scientists.
Further, some fraction — though to my knowledge, as yet unmeasured — apparently believes presidential elections are determined by Instagram followers. All hail President Selena Gomez!
Republicans and Trump backers didn’t come to these conclusions independently. They learned them from the influential TV, radio and Web outfits whose imprimaturs Republican politicians desperately seek, and whose more troubling content these politicians have been reluctant to criticize.
It’s not as if Republican politicians have had any principled objection to media criticism in the past. Of course, their critiques have been reserved solely for left-wing lame-stream media, or at least media outlets they think are putting their thumbs on the scale for Democratic causes. When Republicans generically attack bias in “the media,” they are widely understood to be referring to centrist and left-leaning media, even though the most-watched cable news channel is, by leaps and bounds, conservative Fox News.
When it comes to the paranoid, destructive excesses of right-wing media — not just Fox News’s headliners such as Sean Hannity, but also Breitbart, Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones — Republican leaders have been somewhat more reluctant to condemn or even gently critique.
That’s presumably because many of the crazy conspiracy theories circulated by these outlets served the party’s political interests. At least in the short term.
Birtherism, which Republican leaders were painfully slow to renounce, helped delegitimize the popular mandate of our first black president, even as it legitimized widespread racial resentment.
Claims of voter fraud justified measures that made it more difficult for Democratic-leaning groups to vote, even as they paved the way for a sore-loser candidate to claim he’s about to be robbed of his victory.
Data trutherism — claims that the economy is worse than the official numbers indicate, that polls are “skewed” to favor Democrats, that hurricane forecasts are exaggerated to scare the public into fearing climate change — riled the base, even as it sowed a deadly distrust in any impartial metric of the nation’s economic, political, social or climatological health.
Never-ending witch hunts — against Planned Parenthood, climate scientists, Hillary Clinton — similarly galvanized supporters in the near term but increased bloodlust for punishment of political enemies in the long run.
In other words, Trump is not some black swan, whose unique cocktail of charisma, telegenicism and political fluidity landed him the nomination. His nomination is the product of years of race-baiting, conspiracy-theorizing, expert-delegitimizing right-wing media nonsense, which Republican politicians aided and abetted because it seemed politically expedient at the time. They helped the alt-right create the alternate reality that made a Trump nomination inevitable.
And unless the party establishment grapples with its own complicity in misinforming, misleading and frightening the masses, it’s doomed to field more Donald Trumps in the future.
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