Never count out your opponent until he is actually defeated

I’m visiting family and friends in the Bluegrass State for Thanksgiving week, and my best friend had this old article from the Louisville Courier-Journal on his office desk:

The damage is done

Matt Erwin, Contributing Columnist | 3:35 p.m. EDT October 26, 2016

Election Day is right around the corner and most Americans are begging for it to be over. While every presidential election brings fatigue the offensiveness, the grossness – the ick – Republican nominee Donald Trump has brought to this race has the nation reeling.

There’s one group ready for this campaign will to be over above all others – Republican Party leaders and elected officials. As Donald Trump continues to dig his own grave one slimy insult at a time all signs point to a crushing victory for Hillary Clinton which could produce electoral coattails that didn’t even exist three weeks ago. Like a team watching the clock tick away during a lopsided victory, they must be hoping the end comes mercifully and swift.

But November 9th won’t end the problems Trump poses for Republicans. The stain of his campaign will last a generation, at least, and shackle Republican’s ability to build a coalition that can realistically take back the White House. Donald Trump isn’t going anywhere.

Actually, he is going somewhere: he’s going to the White House!

Now, I’ll admit it: I was wrong on Mr Trump’s electoral prospects. I read the polls, and I thought that he was going to lose, too. I saw the polls in Pennsylvania, the polls which forecast a victory for Democratic candidate Katie McGinty over incumbent Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA), and never thought that Mr Trump would carry the Keystone State, a state which hadn’t been carried by a Republican since the elder George Bush did it in 1988. Mr Trump carried Pennsylvania, and had the coattails to help pull Mr Toomey to re-election. But while I guessed wrong about the election, I was never as wrong as Mr Erwin!

But outside of the Republican Party is where the real damage has been done by Donald Trump and while it may not by permanent it’s not going to heal itself anytime soon.

After the 2012 reelection of Barack Obama the GOP did some serious soul searching and issued a document, commonly described as an autopsy, called the “Growth & Opportunity.” In it, longtime Republican leaders took a sober look at their loss in 2012 and put forward recommendations they saw as necessary if their party was to thrive and grow in the future.

To view these recommendations at the near conclusion of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is comedy at its highest level. Lines like “The RNC cannot and will not write off any demographic or community or region of this country” or “If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States, they will not pay attention to our next sentence” leap off the page as if these warnings were purposefully ignored as Trump insulted large swaths of America, one demographic at a time.

Instead of embracing the Latino community, the fastest growing racial demographic in America, Donald Trump decided to offend them horribly and constantly. His words, and the silence from GOP leaders at the sound of them, could hobble Republican’s attempts to win them over for decades to come.

Then, following election day, it was the Democrats doing the soul-searching, wondering how on God’s earth they lost an election they thought was in the bag. Back in 2013, Michael Hirsh wrote this piece:

Hillary Clinton, Welcome to the White House

She has no Democratic challenger, and the Republican Party is no longer a credible opposition force.

By Michael Hirsh | October 17, 2013

In the innermost sanctum of Clintonland, it is difficult to imagine that Hillary and Bill, two of the savviest politicians in the country, are not pinching themselves to make sure that it’s all real. Perhaps they’re dancing a jig together, or knocking back shots and howling at the moon out of sheer, giddy joy at their good luck. (OK, Hillary’s not howling, but Bill might be.) Or maybe they are just quietly kvelling over the latest turn of events.

cBecause the trend lines are unmistakable, and they’re looking better all the time: If she wants to run in 2016, Hillary Rodham Clinton could have the easiest walk into the White House of any candidate in either party since, well, one has to go back a very long way. Maybe to Reagan in ’84. LBJ in ’64, or Eisenhower in ’52, or even FDR in 1932, 1936 and 1940. The presidency is looking like it’s hers to lose, more than ever.

The reasons are becoming more obvious with each passing crisis of Republicanism, but are even starker now in the wake of the GOP’s embarrassing implosion over the shutdown and debt-ceiling fight. This is an opposition party in such a state of extreme dysfunction that talk of a third-party split in 2016 is almost irrelevant. Why would you need a third-party split to win—as Bill did, recall, cheating George H.W. Bush out of a second term in 1992 thanks to the Ross Perot candidacy—when the base and establishment of the GOP are no longer on speaking terms?

Now remember: in October of 2013, President Obama was eleven months beyond his re-election victory of 2012, and while the Democrats still had control of the Senate, the Republicans had retained control of the House of Representatives, and, thanks to the heavy concentration of Democratic votes in large urban areas, looked likely to retain control of the House at least through the redistricting following the 2020 census. It was somewhat optimistic of Mr Hirsh to think that “the Republican Party is no longer a credible opposition force.” The GOP controlled a majority of state legislative chambers and gubernatorial seats when Mr Hirsh wrote his article, and added to those totals in the 2014 elections.

And it should be pointed out that Mr Hirsh wrote his article well before anyone knew that the very unconventional candidate, Donald Trump, would throw his hat in the ring. Still, Mr Hirsh had enough sense to throw in one caveat:

So, the Republican party is fractured, and in disarray. Virginia, a bellwether state, is going blue. The “best” candidate (as in most electable) the right has is the guy they don’t like very much, Chris Christie. The “do-whacka-do” caucus (Tea Party) is likely to produce the, usual, clown car load of alternative candidates to Christie (thereby forcing him to try to out-Cruz Ted Cruz). All these things being equal, however, 2016 is a long way off, in election terms. It’s a bit premature for anyone to be cracking the champagne or picking out new drapes for the White House. Right now, Hillary has the best shot at the White House, but one should never underestimate the ability of politicians to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory.

Perhaps the problem was Mr Hirsh’s conception that Bill and Hillary Clinton were “two of the savviest politicians in the country.” No, while Bill Clinton is certainly one of the savviest politicians in the country, it has always been clear that Hillary Clinton was not. She had a huge lead over a very junior senator from Illinois going into the 2008 primaries, and she lost. She had a great deal of surreptitious help from Democratic Party officials in rigging the 2016 primaries for her, and against Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and he still presented a huge challenge to her; had it not been for Mrs Clinton’s huge lead amongst the “super delegates,” and the increasing perception that he simply couldn’t overcome that, Mr Sanders might have won enough delegates in the primaries to have won the nomination. Mr Clinton’s absurd “you get two for the price of one” meme in 1992, as though his wife was somehow just as good as he was, led a huge number of Democrats to simply assume that Mrs Clinton was just as savvy a politician as her husband. Instead, Mrs Clinton and her campaign mostly ignored the advice of her husband, a man who had won two presidential campaigns.

Who is Matt Erwin, the author of the first article cited here? He “is a Louisville-based communications consultant. A former staffer in the Kentucky and Illinois House of Representatives, he also has been communications director and spokesman of the Kentucky Democratic Party. His column appears every third Thursday in the Courier-Journal.” I suppose it’s not a surprise that such a loyal Democrat would have seen what he wanted to see, a generations-long destruction of the Republican Party. That the voters wiped the smug look off of his face is very satisfying, but his article points to one truth: the losing party in each presidential election for the past several cycles has been written off as moribund, ready to die. That was written about the GOP after the 2008 and 2012 elections, but the Republicans not only survived, but seized the initiative in state government races, as well as taking control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 election, and the United States Senate in 2014 contests. The Democrats were counted out as dying following the 2004 elections, but came back to take control of both Houses of Congress following teh 2006 elections, and increasing their margins in Congress as well as electing Barack Obama in 2008. The lesson is simple: never count out either party, despite one electoral setback.