Paul Krugman’s column today is about why the Republican Party was unable to stop Trump, but it seems like Hillary Clinton and the Democrats have been able to. There are a lot of structural and logical reasons: namely, he’s not running against 16 people who are scared of him, now. He’s the focus, and he’s massively, comically, underprepared. (A nationwide field staff of 30 people. 30!) It’s the natural result of running a con- once it starts to get exposed, once the gilded walls turn out to be painted plaster, it all crumbles quickly.
The real question is why this particular bill of goods could be so easily sold during the primary, and I think that’s where Krugman’s analysis is revealed to a little off. The main point is that the Republican Party practices a top-down ideological form of control. I’d argue that the Republican Party is virtually leaderless, yes, but I still think he’s correct if you extend that to the blogs, to Fox, to talk radio, and all the snake-oil outlets. And he argues that because they are about one ideology, and that ideology is hollow and broken, it couldn’t offer any resistance. The Democratic Party is more “robust”, because it has a large number of interest groups that compete with each other.
But a big factor, I’d argue, is that the Democratic establishment in general is fairly robust. I’m not saying that its members are angels, which they aren’t. Some, no doubt, are personally corrupt. But the various groups making up the party’s coalition really care about and believe in their positions — they’re not just saying what the Koch brothers pay them to say.
This, I think is incorrect. To be sure, there are a lot of Republicans who only ask how high when told to jump, and not a single one of them hangs up when a Koch (or another rich winger) calls. But I don’t think it is as easy as that. If David Koch decided tomorrow that he wanted to raise taxes and protect the environment, I don’t think you’d see Republicans start behaving better. Some, sure. But for the most part, these are true believers.
Guys like Cruz, and many more like them in the Senate and (especially) the House, and younger comers in the various ALEC-and-Koch-bought statehouses are absolutely products of the right-wing era, who grew up with Reagan and came of age with talk radio, Newt, and the Clintons. They do what the Kochs want, yes, but that’s because their interests and beliefs are aligned. If anything, these are people who are far more committed (and far meaner) then the Kochs. They are people who believe fiercely that the government should exist only to punish poor people and minorities, to impose a form of Christian sexual morality, and to bomb terrorists, and to bomb foreigners.
And more to the point, that’s not just the leaders. It’s the base. That’s why Trump won. It isn’t because right-wing ideology is in decline (though I think we see that it is), it’s because some people believe it, every word, and Trump played it perfectly. It’s an ideology built on mendacious machismo and hippie-punching ignorance. It’ll be here until it is driven away with loss after loss after loss, and the professional politicians finally see the writing on the wall. That’s part of why this election is important. If the True Believers, including Trump, who has no principles but is their avatar, get the nutstomping they deserve, it can make the less-committed professionals think twice.