Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What Jennifer Rubin Still Doesn't Get About the 2016 Election


"Most Republicans in Congress would prefer a stable, very conservative president who once served in the House and governed a red state. All they have to do is get Trump out of there and the Pence presidency can begin. Well, sure, but how is that going to happen?"

Ever since last November, I've written at great length about the unwillingness of Democrats and liberals to accept the election results. Their fixation on a meaningless popular vote count and James Comey's October surprise, along with the typical finger-pointing that always accompanies such an epic defeat, is proof positive that the party still has no idea what really happened and, more to the point, is ill prepared to keep it from happening again in 2020.

Well, it's somewhat comforting that liberals and Democrats aren't the only ones who either haven't gotten the memo on the 2016 election, or if they did, have refused to read it. Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post, is a conservative writer whose recent piece "They Could Have Pence as President, for Heaven's Sake" underscores just how deep the denial is on both sides of the political spectrum.

Let me just say straight up that I admire Rubin's courage, along with that of her fellow cohorts David Frum, David Brooks, Michael Gleason, Ross Douthat, and a handful of others I have read over the course of the last several months since il Duce assumed the title of dictator in waiting. And I can only imagine what they must be going through knowing that someone as repulsive as Trump not only won their party's nomination but the presidency as well. The ghosts of Lincoln and Reagan must be spinning in their graves.

But you see, here's what Rubin, et al don't quite get about the 2016 election. The voters did NOT elect a Republican for president. Yes, I understand, there was an R next to Trump's name. I clearly saw it on the ballot when I went to vote that day. And, yes, I'm painfully aware that Republicans retained their majorities in both Houses of Congress and still control two thirds of the state legislatures in the country.

But here's the thing: despite the most inept campaign in modern history, Democrats still netted six House seats and two Senate seats. And then there's Clinton's popular vote margin - I swear the only time you'll ever hear me tout this as a positive - along with a several state ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage and legalize pot. It's not an unreasonable argument to make that without gerrymandering, Dems might well have taken back the House in 2012 and solidified their hold in 2016.

Anyone who could objectively look at the political landscape of this country and say that it is conservative just isn't paying attention. I'm not saying it's liberal, mind you. There are clearly parts of the country where Bernie Sanders' message not only wouldn't have resonated with voters, it would've been soundly defeated, and I'm not just talking about the deep South or Plain states.

What happened last November had virtually nothing to do with either the Democrats or the Republicans, nor was it about liberal vs. conservative ideology. Had Trump run as a Romulan he would've won the election. What we witnessed was, quite simply, a populist wave, very similar to the one that led to the Brexit vote in Great Britain. It was an uprising of the working class against the elitists in both parties. And Trump not only rode that wave, he was primarily responsible for its cresting.

To suggest, as Rubin does, that a President Mike Pence would somehow be the answer to all the Republican's woes is to imagine a set of facts that is at odds with reality. Yes, Pence is more stable than Trump, I'll give Rubin that. But then Charles Cheswick would be more stable than Trump. But the simple truth is that Pence, despite his conservative bonafides, is a slightly more charming version of Ted Cruz. Had he gone up against Clinton she would've routed him.

In fact, the only Republican candidate, apart from Trump, that had any chance of beating Clinton last November was Ohio governor John Kasich. Take away Trump's populism and Kasich's centrism - or what passes for centrism in the GOP these days - and Hillary wins going away. Indeed, the fact that polls still show Trump beating her even with all the scandals that have rocked his administration should tell you that this populist movement is hardly a passing fancy. Why else do you think Republicans haven't gotten rid of him? It's not Trump they fear; it's his base.

But I'm not the only one who thinks this idea of a post-Trump Pence presidency is a fairy tale. Ronald Klain, also of The Washington Post, points out that "in the 213 years since the 12th Amendment created our system of joint presidential-vice-presidential tickets, no vice president has been elected to the highest office after serving with a president who declined to seek, or was defeated in seeking, a second elected term. And as for coming to office via the president’s ouster, the only vice president to follow that path, Gerald Ford, lost when he campaigned to retain the office — and he had far less to do with President Richard M. Nixon’s scandals than Pence does with the mess around Trump."

Put succinctly, Pence's fate is tied to Trump's. If Trump goes down, so does Pence. Whether he is forced out via impeachment (the odds are less than 50/50), resigns (highly unlikely), or decides not to run in 2020 (a distinct possibility), the odds of Pence winning a general election against what will hopefully be a much stronger Democratic nominee is remote at best. Consider that since the end of World War II, only once has a sitting vice president won the White House. And Mike Pence is NO George H.W. Bush.

Maybe Congressional Republicans, along with a majority of conservatives, would prefer a President Mike Pence, as Rubin suggested, but that sentiment is most assuredly not shared by the majority of the voters. Trump's ascendancy is a sign that the political institutions of this country have failed to do the jobs they were tasked to do. This breakdown did not happen overnight; it was decades in the making.

Until both major political parties get that, come up with a strategy to fix what's broken in Washington and develop a message that will resonate with the electorate, Trump, or perhaps someone even worse, will remain in power.

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