The pithy Pottery Barn slogan comes to mind when I read Jonathan Martin’s piece in the New York Times about the panic setting in on the Republican establishment in the wake of Donald Trump.
WASHINGTON — For months, much of the Republican Party’s establishment has been uneasy about the rise of Donald J. Trump, concerned that he was overwhelming the presidential primary contest and encouraging other candidates to mimic his incendiary speech. Now, though, irritation is giving way to panic as it becomes increasingly plausible that Mr. Trump could be the party’s standard-bearer and imperil the careers of other Republicans.
Many leading Republican officials, strategists and donors now say they fear that Mr. Trump’s nomination would lead to an electoral wipeout, a sweeping defeat that could undo some of the gains Republicans have made in recent congressional, state and local elections. But in a party that lacks a true leader or anything in the way of consensus — and with the combative Mr. Trump certain to scorch anyone who takes him on — a fierce dispute has arisen about what can be done to stop his candidacy and whether anyone should even try.
Some of the highest-ranking Republicans in Congress and some of the party’s wealthiest and most generous donors have balked at trying to take down Mr. Trump because they fear a public feud with the insult-spewing media figure. Others warn that doing so might backfire at a time of soaring anger toward political insiders.
That has led to a standoff of sorts: Almost everyone in the party’s upper echelons agrees something must be done, and almost no one is willing to do it.
With his knack for offending the very constituencies Republicans have struggled with in recent elections, women and minorities, Mr. Trump could be a millstone on his party if he won the nomination. He is viewed unfavorably by 64 percent of women and 74 percent of nonwhite voters, according to a November ABC News/Washington Post poll. Such unpopularity could not only doom his candidacy in November but also threaten the party’s tenuous majority in the Senate, hand House seats to the Democrats and imperil Republicans in a handful of governor’s races.
In states with some of the most competitive Senate contests, the concern is palpable, especially after weeks in which Mr. Trump has made a new series of inflammatory statements.
“If he carries this message into the general election in Ohio, we’ll hand this election to Hillary Clinton — and then try to salvage the rest of the ticket,” said Matt Borges, chairman of the Republican Party there, where Senator Rob Portman is facing a competitive re-election.
It’s not as if the GOP hasn’t been setting themselves up for this for a very long time; even before Barack Obama came onto the scene. You can go back as far as the election of 1968 with the Southern Strategy of Richard Nixon and the planting of the seeds of resentment in the white male voter being told that women and minorities were getting all the “free stuff” like abortions and welfare and the hippies were corrupting our youth with their long hair and free love.
Ronald Reagan made it all sound so sunny and nice to beat up on the Others, but Lee Atwater laid the pipeline for Trump with his political strategy; the essence of divisive campaigning.
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
Now, thanks to the election of Barack Obama, we’ve gone from the abstract almost back to 1954 with the chorus of dog whistles bordering on air raid sirens about the president’s birth certificate and wails from the white folk about “getting their country back.” All they needed was a candidate who would cast off the dog whistles, make up preposterous stories about himself and others, and feed it to the base of the party like cotton candy at a state fair. Well, now they have him.
His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.
It worked then. The problem is that it ended in flames and body counts.