Why Democrats Need a Big Tent Party

The Democratic Party has witnessed a surge in activism and energy since the election. Lots of previously disengaged Democrats or people who hadn't paid a lot of attention to politics have flocked into the party. This is fantastic news for Democrats. But for the party to be successful, it has to remember the importance of being a big tent party and of tailoring candidates to their states and districts. For better or worse, we live in a diverse country, and the values that dominate and animate people's lives in San Francisco or New York aren't the same values that reign in Montana or Oklahoma. 

The United States Constitution leaves a lot of power to state governments, and creates a Senate that is intentionally undemocratic, and extends equal representation to every state, regardless of population. As such, a party cannot be nationally successful and cannot broadly enact its agenda just by dominating in the most urbane, populous places. Instead, a smart party has to calibrate its candidates to fit to every district and state. A message that works really well in one locale, might net a candidate 38% in another.

Democrats should have learned this lesson over the last 6 years. Being the party of highly educated professionals, minority groups, and millennials has not proven to be a recipe for political success. It delivered popular vote victories in 2 presidential elections and an electoral college victory in 2012. But it has failed at the state legislative level, it hasn't worked in the House of Representatives, where even accounting for gerrymandering, Democrats' tendency to cluster in urban areas and inner ring suburbs puts them at a disadvantage, and it contributed to a net loss of 12 Senate seats. 

What's the solution? Nominating people who fit their communities. Smart candidate selection, which involves tolerating regional differences, offers the best prospect of becoming a majority party, and enacting the greatest portion of a party's agenda possible. Put more bluntly, the party must adapt its message and candidates to fit the geographic terrain if it wants to flourish.

What does that mean in practical terms? In a wealthy suburban district, it might mean accepting and recruiting a candidate with culturally liberal views, but a more conservative outlook on issues of taxes, spending, and redistribution. In a rural state, by contrast, where much of the population is religious and wary of government, it might mean a more populist economic message, but candidates who are pro-life and pro-gun. 

That isn't to say that the party should eschew principles or shouldn't fight for more gun control, reproductive rights, or a fairer economic system. A party can have principles and a platform without saying that anyone who doesn't agree with every single position isn't welcome. Democrats have to recognize that political parties adopt broad platforms covering the panoply of issues, and rather than having litmus tests, a wise party will accept all who agree on more of the party's positions than not. 

There are two major reasons why this vision represents smart politics. The first is that it provides an avenue to achieve a majority. Even a pro-life Democrat from say, Nebraska or Montana, is going to vote for Democratic legislative leaders. That means controlling what bills get votes. That allows for safeguarding reproductive freedoms and considering gun control proposals, even if those legislators vote against them. Additionally, it allows for burying legislation that contravenes Democratic principles. Democratic control of the White House and each branch of Congress (and at the state level, the governorship and the state legislature) matters even if the party's elected officials disagree over some issues. 

Even as the bitterly divided Republican Party struggles to enact President Trump's agenda, Republican control of the White House and Congress has already elevated conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and has forestalled the enactment of any progressive proposals that a President Hillary Clinton might have signed into law with a Democratic Congress. 

Secondly, a Democrat who agrees with the party on 50% of the issues, or 70% of the issues is far more desirable than a Republican who agrees with the party on 20% of the issues, or 0% of the issues. In many places in America, that's the choice. It's not a question of whether an elected official agrees with Democratic principles 80% of the time or 50% of the time. In places liberal enough where that is the question, it's reasonable to challenge Democrats who disagree on core issues in primary elections. But in red states and districts, someone who agrees half the time is a dramatic improvement over the alternative. 

Observers of politics have watched Republicans fumble away at least 3 Senate senate seats over the last decade by nominating staunch ideologues in places where a candidate better fitted to the ideology of the state likely would've won. Democrats shouldn't follow this pathway to becoming a pure, but narrow, party that can only compete in certain regions of the country. Such a course will limit the ability to pass legislation and to improve the lives of average Americans. 

Ironically, it appears as though various wings of the Democratic Party understand this concept—but only when it applies to issues they find less important. Bernie Sanders, the patron saint of the far left on economic issues, sparked controversy by campaigning/appearing with a pro-life Democratic mayoral candidate in Nebraska. Conversely, however, he initially refused to endorse Jon Ossoff (he reversed course today), the Democratic nominee for the House seat of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Sanders questioned Ossoff's progressive credentials. 

Conversely, groups concerned with reproductive rights condemned Sanders for appearing with Heath Mello, the Omaha mayoral candidate. But they fulsomely support Ossoff. The reality is that Ossoff's combination of more centrist economic positions and more progressive cultural stances fits his suburban Georgia district far better than the populism espoused by Sanders. Similarly, a pro-life Democrat is more likely to reflect the views of a community in Nebraska, and therefore provide a much greater chance of winning an election, than a staunch cultural liberal would. 

Accepting that reality doesn't require jettisoning the party's principles. Nor does it require ducking core issues to avoid offending certain constituencies. It simply involves accepting a diverse array of elected officials who reflect the sensibilities of their communities. It means avoiding a potentially suicidal primary challenge to Senators Joe Manchin (WV) and Heidi Heitkamp, both far more conservative than most Democrats, but also hailing from ruby red states that a more progressive Democrat could not win. It means understanding that rural, suburban, and urban America all require a different political touch.

Such a tact offers the best chance of winning the most elections. Election victories, in turn, provide the best shot of enacting the Democratic agenda.  

A Few Quick Thoughts on Bill O'Reilly & Fox

1. 2 weeks ago I wrote a piece for US News on why I thought Bill O'Reilly would survive. The prediction turned out to be incorrect (we historians don't have great crystal balls), but in that piece I explained what it would take for O'Reilly to lose his show. That reasoning has held up very well. Fox made a business decision that keeping O'Reilly on the air promised to do more harm than good. 

2. We're about to learn whether viewers tune in to Fox News for specific personalities or to hear a conservative slant on the news of the day. If it's the former, Fox could be in for some rough sledding ahead. In the last 6 months, they've now lost their 7, 8, and 9 PM hosts, to go with the network's mastermind, Roger Ailes, getting forced aside last summer. If Fox remains wildly successful ratings wise, it will be a sign that their personalities are basically interchangeable. The audience tunes in for a specific perspective, and to see their worldview applied to the stories making headlines. They want to see liberals pummeled, and conservatism championed. Who exactly provides this content matters less than the content itself. 

But O'Reilly's departure could create an opening for one of the various upstart conservative broadcasters, be it CRTV, Newsmax, etc. With Fox losing (or jettisoning in O'Reilly's case) their entire primetime lineup, conservative Fox viewers might be more willing to give other outlets a chance than they have been in the past. That's likely one reason why Fox is relying on promoting from within to fill the vacancies—they want to provide their audience with familiar faces and programs in an effort to mitigate any damage done to their ratings. 

3. What becomes of Bill O'Reilly? One option would be to head into semi-retirement. Instead of the grind of doing a daily show, O'Reilly could continue his wildly successful book franchise and otherwise focus on enjoying life. But for a pugilist like O'Reilly, he doesn't seem like the fade into the sunset in disgrace or under a cloud of suspicion type. And most of his fans likely believe that their favorite host has gotten railroaded by a combination of the liberal media, liberal interest groups, and sniveling, spineless Fox executives. So it's easy to envision O'Reilly wanting to author one final chapter in his media life—a sort of FU to his critics and to the Fox executives who refused to stand behind him. 

If he chooses that route, the best fit for O'Reilly moving forward would likely be a subscription based operation. Such a business model provides far more protection for employing a popular, but controversial, personality. Advertiser boycotts matter little when subscription fees drive the profitability of a media outlet. O'Reilly could start his own platform or he could migrate to a preexisting outlet, be it CRTV, the Blaze, Sirius/XM, etc. But such a future would allow him to remain profitable so long as his fans remain loyal. The opinions of non-fans would matter little. 

Such a business model has allowed Howard Stern to remain successful on Sirius/XM without the hassle of worrying about potential FCC fines, angsty station executives, and advertiser boycotts sparked by protestors. 

Reflections on Rick Perlstein's Essay on Conservatism

Historian Rick Perlstein authored an essay in this week's New York Times Magazine on the deeper historical roots of Trumpism. He pondered whether he and other historians of conservatism (like me) missed the gathering storm, because we've focused too much on "respectable conservatism" or new "modern conservatism" and ignored the old right lurking beneath our eyes. 

I both agree and disagree with elements of Perlstein's argument. When I teach conservatism, I focus on the fusionist new right launched into being in the 1950s and early 1960s, propelled forward by National Review, its founder William F. Buckley, and Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign. This movement fused together anti-Communists, cultural traditionalists, and libertarians. Anti-Communism served as a glue holding the movement together through the late 1970s, when low taxes emerged to bond together the disparate strands of the movement. 

Isolationists lost their crusade to keep America out of the world no later than the early 1950s, and a muscular foreign policy emerged with the rise of hawks like Strom Thurmond and Barry Goldwater. Strands of opposition to internationalism reemerged in the 1990s during the brief window between the end of the Cold War and 9/11. But these voices never dominated the conservative coalition. 

The movement largely pushed the most extreme voices on racial issues out of the conservative mainstream, preferring coded language, and at least nominally color blind policies. Mainstream conservatism also rejected conspiracy theorists. Leading conservatives embraced extreme religious conservatives like the tele-evangelists Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, but they attempted to distance the movement from the preachers' worst rhetorical excesses. 

But in teaching about conservatism, I also devote a week to teaching about the populist conservatism of the racist Alabama firebrand George Wallace, perhaps the best historical antecedent of President Trump. Wallace wasn't opposed to using government as a force in society—his ideology wasn't libertarian like Goldwater's, or even conservative like Reagan's. Rather Wallace wanted to steer the fruits of government to certain Americans, restore traditional values, and take it the folks trying to change American culture. 

 I also teach about the "Paleo-conservatism" of Pat Buchanan which captured the support of many on the right in the 1990s. Protectionist and anti-immigrant, the paleo-con rhetoric also offers a nice antecedent for President Trump's rhetoric. 

I include Buchanan and Wallace because no historian of conservatism should ignore the existence of a populist right. But to act as though it was anything more than a small element of the conservative coalition over the last forty to fifty years distorts the history.

Buchanan never captured the Republican nomination, or anything close to it (He received 22.96% of the primary vote against President George H.W. Bush in 1992 and 20.76% of the primary vote in 1996). If anything, his movement's ideas translated into more success for third party candidate Ross Perot than for anyone in the GOP.

Modern conservatism, with its anti-statist bent on everything but cultural issues, dominated Republican politics. Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush trumpeted the values of free trade, low taxes, reduced government spending, etc. 

Trying to go back, as Perlstein does, and paint Trump's movement as part of some continuous lineage ignores the fact that this movement wasn't a dominant force on the right for most of the post-war period about which most scholars of modern conservatism write. If anything, these voters were more swing voters, or "Reagan Democrats," who embraced the GOP's position on cultural issues and the welfare state, but also found much to like in some Democrats (I'd be fascinated to see how many voters who supported Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 voted for President Trump last November). 

It would also distort the history to view the "New Right" as cloaked Trumpism, or the old right with new packaging. New Right conservatives, best embodied on today's political stage by House Speaker Paul Ryan, have fundamental beliefs inherently in tension with the beliefs of the Trump movement. They champion free trade, visas for high skilled workers, and driving government spending ever lower.

On foreign policy, especially after the mid-1970s, the dominant voices within conservatism were neoconservatives, who favored deep engagement with the world and had few moral qualms about employing American military might. Voices more wary about foreign entanglements emerged during Bill Clinton's presidency, but 9/11 quickly dashed whatever momentum they had gained. 

Nonetheless, this debate reminds me of an earlier historiographical schism about whether the GOP employed a Southern strategy in the late 1960s and beyond, deployed to woo blue collar voters angered by the Great Society and Civil Rights legislation, or whether it embraced a more moderate suburban strategy, designed to win over the voters of the burgeoning Sunbelt suburbs with promises of business friendly policies, good schools, a burgeoning economy, etc. 

I've never seen these two strategies as mutually exclusive. Instead, I argue that the GOP tried to do both. Republicans utilized different tropes, frames, and arguments to target these two distinct voting blocs. To some extent, the rise of modern conservative media (about which I write) made the quest of simultaneously appealing to all stripes of conservatives easier.

Rush Limbaugh could dub the graduated income tax an assault on achievement, and portray tax cuts as allowing voters to decide what to do with their money instead of faceless bureaucrats and nefarious big spending politicians. Simultaneously, however, he could treat blue collar conservatives with respect, and leave them feeling like someone was voicing their sentiments and championing their values. He fought back against what they considered to be the lords of political correctness who ridiculed them and their values.

Talk radio and cable news paved the way for Donald Trump by providing a tactical and stylistic playbook into which he tapped, and revealing that a portion of Americans felt alienated and dispossessed by both parties and were yearning for a champion. 

President Trump took advantage of a uniquely divided Republican primary to capture the party's presidential nomination with the brand of populist conservatism voiced by Wallace and Buchanan, and generally eschewed by Reagan, the Bushes, and leading congressional Republicans. Yet, it's a mistake to over read the meaning of that result. It could be that Trump's true movement is a far smaller portion of the electorate than the percentage of the electorate that voted for him. Many conservatives held their nose and voted for Trump out of a belief that he was the lesser of two evils, not because they endorsed his nativist "America First" vision. Many might have supported a Democrat had the Democratic nominee not been the loathed Hillary Clinton. 

To somehow see Trumpism as what lurked within conservatism all along misreads the many disparate strands of conservatives. It also ignores how many genuine conservatives abhor President Trump. While Perlstein claims that the Never Trump movement has embraced President Trump since the election, a read of the work of conservative intellectuals and commentators like Jennifer Rubin, George Will, Bill Kristol, Charlie Sykes, John Podhoretz, and Michael Medved dispels this notion. 

Finally, Perlstein posits that only restrictive immigration policies provided a historical moment in which liberalism could triumph. He muses about the tie between Congress loosening immigration laws in the mid-1960s, and conservatism returning to the fore of American politics. This interpretation, while creative and provocative, ignores the countless other reasons that conservatism gained traction in the 1970s. 

Riots and the counterculture during the 1960s, the utter failure of liberalism and government to address the stagflation of the 1970s, burgeoning conservative political infrastructure, the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, with their major ramifications for politics, the credibility gap that emerged in the late 1960s...the list of reasons for the "rise" of conservatism is long, and at most, less restrictive immigration laws are 1 of many factors. 




Why Obama Is and Isn't At Fault

One impulse in the hazy hours of the middle of the night was to blame President Obama for the dire straits in which the Democratic Party finds itself today. After all, he has now presided over 3 smashing Republican victories in 4 elections.

It's clear that he did a terrible job at reaching out to and communicating with certain segments of the society. Was the task easy? No. But one could have envisioned him barnstorming areas full of his worst demographics after the 2008 election, the 2010 midterms, or even the 2014 midterms, holding town halls and actually trying to communicate with the voters who found him and his tenure so noxious. Perhaps that might have forestalled their attraction to Donald Trump. 

He also, simply put, never managed to figure out how to excite and bring his voters out to support other Democratic candidates. Not in 2010. Not in 2014. Not (it seems since any turnout numbers we have today are tenuous and will continue to go up) in 2016. He apparently couldn't get them sufficiently engaged in politics to become every election voters. 

The results will be cataclysmic for liberal priorities. Democrats and liberals really haven't been this prostrate in politics since the end of the Hoover presidency in 1933. 

BUT journalists and scholars who make this point are also missing something huge—the Obama so loathed by so many conservatives and blue collar white Americans who dominated elections in 2010, 2014, and 2016 is not the actual Obama. Many of these folks exist in a well documented conservative echo chamber. The Obama they think they know is virtually demonic. He had 0 respect for the presidency, and loathes America. He's a guy who might not even be an American, and who is pushing socialist ideas and dogmas, never mind that his policies never came close to approaching those labels.

I'm not sure that any Democrat could have avoided these labels from those in the echo chamber, because they have every economic incentive to ignore nuance and gray areas, and play to the emotions of their audiences.  

So when blaming President Obama for presiding over the destruction of the Democratic Party, we need to remember this fact, and understand that we are living in 2 parallel Americas right now—both in terms of values, but also in terms of what people know, what they think they of, and what information they receive. 

Quick Post Debate Thoughts

A few quick post debate observations without a ton of editing: 

1. Everyone will properly make a massive deal out of Donald Trump's virtually historically unprecedented refusal to say that he will accept the results of the election—even after moderator Chris Wallace provided a sorely needed civics election. No, Trump fans, no one was asking him to forego his right to challenge results, as Al Gore did in 2000, in the event that the election is decided by a razor thin margin. But no candidate in modern history refused to accept the results BEFOREHAND. There is a legal process. In the event of a close election, either candidate can avail him or herself of that process, provided that he/she accepts the outcome at the end.

Gore and Richard Nixon before him might well have believed privately that the opposition stole elections, but both avoided calling the legitimacy of the system into question. Ask yourself this: if Trump faced the same situation than Gore faced in 2000, would he concede after the final Supreme Court ruling? 

The peaceful transition of power, dating back to 1800, when much apprehension existed as to whether it would occur, is a hallmark of American democracy. It's why we're not a banana republic. It's what made the U.S so unique in 1800. 

This comment might've been Trump's single most dangerous and destructive remark in a campaign full of them. He egged on his supporters who are already reticent to trust basic facts, because of beliefs about media bias, and thrust the very fundamental process at the core of our republic into unnecessary and foreboding doubt. Trump demonstrated a contempt for the American system unimaginable from any American politician. 

We've had candidates win the popular vote and lose the electoral college (Gore and Samuel Tilden), we've had a candidate receive the most electoral and popular votes (though some historians dispute the popular vote totals), but lose in the House of Representatives (Andrew Jackson in 1824), we've had election results decided after months of drama (1800 and 1876), but the hallmark of our system is a peaceful transfer of power. 

Trump failed on the most basic metric by which we can judge any candidate. No doubt this answer is also a disaster for down ballot Republicans who will need to spend the next few days cleaning up after Trump. 


2. All of that aside, I still think Trump hurt himself most with his nasty, biting asides, constant interruptions (at one point he wouldn't even let moderator Chris Wallace finish a question without 4-5 interruptions). As I wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer before the first debate, voters want a likable and relatable candidate. A candidate who interjects that his opponent is a "nasty woman" in the middle of one of her answers is anything but.

According to one tally, Trump interrupted Clinton 37 times, whereas she interrupted him a mere 9 times. Trump also interrupted Wallace 25 times. These antics make Trump appear juvenile, petulant, and the antithesis of presidential. I can't help but wonder how many parents out there watched his performance and thought gee, I wouldn't tolerate that sort of rudeness from my kids, let alone my president. 

3. Overall, I think Trump had his best debate in terms of rallying his base, and providing them with exactly what they care about hearing. He flogged Clinton's various scandals, made reference to a new video from conservative provocateur James O'Keefe that raises further allegations of Democratic voter fraud and shenanigans, and he called out several of Clinton's weakest moments.  He also showed a slightly better grasp of policy than he had in the first two debates (though the bar was exceedingly low—as the Washington Post's Paul Kane tweeted, many other Republicans could have provided a better performance). 

He channeled the anger felt by many conservatives, and repeatedly raised the issue of double standards, whereby conservatives get judged by a harsher standard than liberals, something that has long rankled many conservatives and Republicans, and which resonates deeply with the consumers of conservative media. 

4. Moderator Chris Wallace was the biggest winner for the night. He performed well under a glaring spotlight, doing an almost impossible job with aplomb. He won accolades from the left, right and journalists. Yet, as Politico's Hadas Gold savvily pointed out, Wallace employed conservative frames for issues, and a conservative vernacular/language that distinguished his moderation from predecessors.

To provide one example of Wallace's utilization of a conservative frame, he seemed to accept uncritically a disputed AP report purportedly showing that Clinton Foundation donors received special access to then Secretary of State Clinton at the State Department. He also mentioned the amount of money paid to Clinton for a speech to bankers in a question about contradictions between her public statements and private ones, which seemed unnecessary. 

Yet,  liberal praise for Wallace in spite of these conservative frames reflects the magnitude of the impressiveness of his performance. He challenged both candidates often, throwing their inconsistencies at them and calling out refusals to answer questions. His questions were tough, but fair. Finally, he tried, though sometimes without success, to cut off attempts to repeat points from the first two debates, in favor of discussing issues avoided previously.

Wallace's style offered a road map for a respected conservative news operation that addresses issues important to conservatives, while reflecting rigorous journalism.

5. Clinton had her best debate performance. She hit a home run in responding to a question about allegations that Trump assaulted 9 different women over the previous decades, she demonstrated policy mastery, she displayed more empathy than usual, and she successfully needled Trump into imploding and taking the bait. For most of the night, she was at the top of her game. 

She had two weak moments: first, her response to Wallace's question about the discrepancy between her public statements and the speech to bankers with regard to favoring open borders. Clinton brushed aside the remark, offering a touch of context, before pivoting to decry the Russian hacking that revealed the comment. She could and should have been more assertive.

Later, Clinton clumsily sidestepped the question on pay to play, but as Wallace noted, she never answered it. Her campaign has offered far stronger responses with actual facts, and she should have employed one of them before shifting to the good done by the Clinton Foundation. In both cases, Clinton missed an opportunity to assuage some of the uneasiness that many voters still feel about her.

Her supporters will brush these moments aside, arguing that she deftly moved the discussion to more comfortable terrain. But failing to adequately address this distrust is the last thing preventing Clinton from 100% locking up the election (she's very close). It will also have governance ramifications. 

6. It won't get the attention it deserves, but listening to Trump essentially say that he didn't care what American intelligence agencies said about who hacked the DNC and Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta will surely have tongues wagging and jaws dropping in foreign policy/defense/intelligence circles. It demonstrated his unwillingness to accept facts when they don't suit his purposes. This answer also likely hurt Trump with voters—both for its denial of fact, and it's curt dismissal of the intelligence agencies. 

7. According to a chart tweeted around, the moderators across the 3 debates failed to ask questions about many key policy issues (like climate change, education, campaign finance, LGBTQ, etc). Moderators confront a nearly impossible task, but perhaps we need more or longer debates if they can't get to so many pertinent and important issues. 

The Electoral Consequences of Trump for Republicans

Two quick musings that stem from tweets late last week, but on which I wanted to expand just a touch. 

Account after account of Donald Trump sexually harassing women, on top of the now infamous video in which he proclaimed his proclivity for such behavior hasn't done that much damage to his standing in the polls. Sure, Trump has dropped a few points in national surveys, as well as battleground state polls. But he hasn't fallen off the cliff in the way that we might have expected after such remarks. 

Polls taken in places like Ohio,  Florida, and North Carolina still depicted a close race. Similarly, polls taken in key Senate races last week didn't indicate that voters were socking it to Republicans for daring to nominate Trump. 

Which brings me to two theories—first that Trump may avoid truly cratering nationally, or in battleground states, while still experiencing a far bigger defeat than many past candidates. If these polls are accurate (and we have no reason to doubt them), historians can stop scurrying to recall what percentage of the vote James Cox received in 1920 (Cox has the ignominious distinction of the worst showing in the modern era). As Josh Kraushaar of National Journal and the Hotline has pointed out, Trump has durable support from the vast majority of Republicans. In some cases, voters have said that there is nothing that he could do or say to lose their support. 

But, intriguingly, while Trump may not be headed for less than 35% of the popular vote, or double digit losses in key states, his "cratering" might be reflected more by the number of states now in play. Polling and anecdotal evidence indicates that Republican bastions like Georgia, Arizona, and possibly even Texas or Utah might be in play. While Trump's core of support remains strong, by turning off suburban voters, women, millennials, and other key constituencies, he has enlarged the battleground for Hillary Clinton.

Thus, it seems possible that Clinton could score a more resounding victory in the electoral college than in the popular vote. Maybe her national margins won't exceed President Obama's 7 point victory in 2008. But her electoral college margin just might. At the very least, she now maintains many pathways to victory, whereas Trump essentially needs the electoral equivalent of a royal flush to win. 

Turning down ballot, amidst polls showing the Senate battleground holding steady, we also saw a few scattered House polls (I can think of a Democratic poll from Virginia's 10th District and one from New Jersey's 5th District) showing Republican incumbents in real trouble. These polls coupled with increasing concerns from House Republican leaders that their majority might actually be at risk prompts another theory.

Perhaps Trump does more damage to House Republicans than to Senate Republicans. States tend to be more diverse than congressional districts. So in a state with a hotly contested Senate race, like for example, Pennsylvania, while Trump may have repelled suburban voters (a poll last week showed him losing the Philadelphia suburbs 56-28), he also might attract white male support in other parts of the state. By contrast, in suburban Congressional districts, or Congressional districts in blue states, there are fewer of Trump's core champions to offset the loss of suburban voters and women. 

Thus, the consequences of Trump losing big might be felt more by House Republicans than their Senate counterparts. I still doubt that control of the House will flip, but maybe Democrats come closer to flipping 20 seats than 10. 



On the Failure of Criminal Justice Reform

Editor's note: I've decided to try to write short blogs in lieu of tweetstorms on stories and ideas that require more than 140 characters of response. One reason I don't blog more is heavy editing takes times. So be forewarned that this sort of post will be more stream of consciousness, and should be treated as such....

Carl Hulse had an interesting look at the demise (for this year) of a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill that seemed to have everything going for it—support by leading Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, passage by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a bipartisan basis, support from powerful liberal and conservative interest groups, etc. 

Hulse details the reasons why the bill failed, many of which link to the presidential campaign. But he omitted one that I think deserves more attention. This strikes me as the sort of bill that previous Republican Senate leaders like Howard Baker, Bob Dole, or Trent Lott would have brought to the floor for a debate and vote. It seems likely that there are more than 60 votes in support of the bill, so a filibuster could be broken. The bill would represent the kind of bipartisan achievement that both parties used to hail, but now happen only rarely. 

McConnell, however, has often been mischaracterized as a deal cutter. He's not. He's a master parliamentarian and a shrewd political tactician, whose motives are often driven by politics. He's a political pragmatist far more than a legislative one. 

He also hails from Kentucky, a hotbed of the kind of populist Republican sentiment that drove the Tea Party and Trumpism. Thus, he went from champion pork barreler to staunch fiscal conservative. Earlier in his career, he morphed from Ripon Society Member (a leading group of moderate to liberal Republicans) to conservative as he sensed the winds of political change blowing.

Legislatively, McConnell is perhaps best known for manipulating parliamentary tools to stall campaign finance reform (when that effort failed, he sued), and to tie the Senate in knots when Democrats have control. He's not the old school style of deal cutter whose focus is on passing the best legislation possible under the circumstances. While McConnell has served in the Senate for 32 years, he hasn't accumulated a decades long record of bipartisan accomplishment like John McCain (AZ), Orrin Hatch (UT), or Charles Grassley (IA). 

All of that is to say that currently he's much more concerned with avoiding any legislation that splits his Republican caucus than he is about legislating. Whereas previous Republican Senate leaders possessed great dealmaking skill, McConnell has rarely cut deals short of crisis situations where he faced little choice. Politically, he'd much rather avoid angering the Jeff Sessions (AL)-Tom Cotton (AR) wing of his caucus, which is heavily aligned with Donald Trump on the issue of criminal justice policy than with the majority of the Senate. 

He faces 0 political risk by preventing the bill from becoming law. By contrast, floor debate on the bill would expose a Republican fissure, and open McConnell to charges of being soft on crime in his next primary election. For a guy more focused on politics than policy, those risks look supremely unattractive. 

I raise this point, because I believe that McConnell's posture, and his focus on political and tactical victories is a leading cause of the demise of the bipartisan lawmaking that used to characterize the Senate. While there are certainly other factors in play, McConnell doesn't share the zest of some of his fellow senior Republicans for legislative achievements, and hasn't minded utilizing any tactic to scuttle legislation that doesn't meet his political goals—whatever the cost to the Senate and the country. 

It's one reason why I see little hope for great legislative achievements under the next president—McConnell will likely remain Senate Republican leader through 2020, and quite possibly beyond. The retirement of his Democratic counterpart, Harry Reid (NV), also a political pugilist, will help the situation, but I have little confidence that McConnell will change his stripes. 

Why Bad Press Hasn't Hurt Donald Trump


Yesterday Donald Trump spent much of his forty minute press conference hurling insults at reporters. Trump’s performance prompted talk radio titan Rush Limbaugh to marvel, “That was the kind of press conference Republicans voters have been dying to see for who knows how many years.” While Republican politicians have eschewed such performances, Limbaugh and his peers have regularly filled the void. Their diatribes set the stage for Trump’s success.  

Many of Trump’s loyalists have long consumed conservative media, and talk radio fans know better than to trust the hopelessly biased mainstream media to tell the truth. If Democrats are the villain in talk radio’s soap opera, mainstream journalists are a close second. By so thoroughly discrediting the messenger, talk radio opened the door for Trump to flourish in spite of an avalanche of negative coverage, numerous broadcast missteps, and revelations about his ever-changing issue positions. Journalists investigate Trump, and his fans dismiss their reporting. 

Wisconsin talk radio star Charlie Sykes, a leader in the #NeverTrump movement, acknowledged as much. “We [talk radio hosts] bear some responsibility because we beat on the mainstream media for so long and now there are no credible sources anymore.”


Talk radio’s vilification of mainstream journalists contains a kernel of truth. A liberal cultural worldview shapes reporting in the mainstream media. This sensibility determines what issues reporters focus on, what stories they consider to be newsworthy, and what questions they ask Nonetheless, mainstream journalists attempt to chronicle the news fairly, recounting all sides of the story and accurately conveying what happened and why. 

The black and white world of talk radio, however, has no room for this nuance. Instead talkers have spent decades painting mainstream journalists as perfidious finks who labor to advance the evil Democrats and their agenda [picture the political equivalent of the nefarious pro-wrestling manager who inevitably interferes during the climax of a match to smash the hero over the head with a weapon]. 

Talkers regularly discuss the various ways in which mainstream journalists demolish or diminish conservatives while boosting liberals and Democrats. They illustrate the media’s hypocrisy and utilization of double standards to judge Democrats and Republicans. For good measure, hosts employ barbed nicknames for many top journalists and mainstream outlets, and gleefully spotlight factual errors in mainstream broadcasts and publications. 

Limbaugh, has branded the mainstream media the drive by media—conjuring up images of violence, in this case against truth and Republicans. The left-leaning MSNBC, perhaps hosts’ favorite media punching bag, warrants the derisive monikers of PMSNBC and MSLSD from Limbaugh and Mark Levin respectively, each of which aims to evoke a negative image in the minds of listeners. 

Dating back to his earliest days on national radio and television [Limbaugh’s national radio show launched on August 1, 1988 and his television program aired from 1992 to 1996], uncovering and interrogating media bias has been a routine feature of Limbaugh’s programs. 

For example, on his July 15, 1994 television show, Limbaugh remarked that all three networks provided the same newscast each night. This similarity stemmed from the fact that, “these people are slavish to the Democrats in Congress, slavish to the Clinton administration, for the most part.” 

He reminded his viewers that when mainstream commentators attacked him, they displayed their scorn for his audience. 

They say that you're an idiot.  They say that you people are too stupid and dumb to recognize things for yourself.  You can't figure out these complex issues and you really can't figure them out if you're listening to or watching me.

You are dolts, my friends.  You are mental midgets.  You are glittering jewels of colossal ignorance.  These people in the mainstream press look down at you in a condescending, arrogant way.

A few months later, Limbaugh caught NBC’s Gwen Ifil cheerleading for Democrats: 

Gwen Ifill used to write for The New York Times.  In the incestuous inside-the-Beltway news business, she's been hired by NBC as a reporter and commentator.  She debuted on Meet the Depressed' [Limbaugh’s nickname for Meet the Press] Sunday, and as is the duty of all former New York Times reporters on television, it was her job to defend the Clinton administration.  And this is how she did on her inaugural appearance.
Ms.  GWEN IFILL (NBC News): (From "Meet the Press") Instead, they look like the gang that couldn't shoot straight.  They can't get anything through.  Now that's not exactly true because, in fact, they've gotten a lot of things through--important things like--I can't think of any right now--important things have been gotten through.

The following summer, he dissected remarks by CBS’ Lesley Stahl that sympathized with a claim by President Clinton that he couldn’t cut through the clutter as media outlets and options sprouted at warp speed. Limbaugh painted the changes in the media landscape as a byproduct of consumer disgruntlement with biased mainstream outlets. He asserted that Stahl’s comments were merely sour grapes at no longer being able to manipulate Americans “because there are other people out there [talk radio and cable talk hosts] who, I think, are actually doing the networks' jobs for them.”

A content analysis of Limbaugh’s program conducted by scholars Kathleen Jamieson and Joseph Capella revealed that he ridiculed the media on 52 separate days between September 3rd and November 11th, 1996. 

These anti-mainstream media tropes have remained a fixture in talk radio over the past two decades. After ABC’s George Stephanopolous queried Mitt Romney about whether states could ban contraception in a 2012 Republican debate, Mark Levin exploded, “It is outrageous to me that time would be taken during a national debate where our country is going to hell that this would be a subject front and center. But that’s because Stephanopolous, a hack left-wing Democrat, is trying to sabotage the Republicans as are all of these moderators for the most part.”

This view of the mainstream media has shaped talk radio’s coverage of the 2016 campaign. In late March, Trump provoked a firestorm by asserting to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that if states outlawed abortion, women ought to face punishment for having them. Unsurprisingly, Limbaugh’s analysis of the exchange heaped scorn upon Matthews. He repeatedly dismissed the host as a partisan Democratic hack and “a mental midget.” He observed that “Matthews and all these other left-wingers who are so consumed by their hatred for the right wing and they're so consumed by their own bias and prejudice that they think pro-life equals punishing the woman.” 

The following day, Limbaugh returned to the Matthews-Trump interview to summarize that: 

yes, he’s [Matthews] trying to trip Trump up on abortion.  My point about that is that whole interview was essentially an attack on the Republican Party, not just Trump.  It set up a campaign narrative for the Democrats to use against the entire party, not just Trump. It doesn't matter if Trump's the nominee or not.

Scholarly evidence indicates that mistrust of the mainstream media is associated with greater exposure to political talk radio and the internet. Jamieson and Cappella offer evidence from 1996 that regular Limbaugh listeners distrusted mainstream outlets more than non-listeners or listeners to either liberal/moderate talk radio or other conservative political talk radio. 

It is difficult to disentangle whether hosts spur their listeners’ mistrust of mainstream reporting, or whether people already suspicious of the mainstream media embrace talk radio as an alternative. Yet, at the very least, talk radio reinforces this perception among its listeners. 

The notion of a biased media crucially aids conservatives when confronted with stories or claims that they can’t easily refute on their merits. In these situations, politicians like Trump and their champions wield the club of media bias to hammer the messenger and tarnish the reporting. 

As evidenced by Limbaugh’s exploration of Trump’s comments on abortion, media bias also benefits conservative politicians when they stumble in an interview. Their supporters or conservative media personalities can excuse a disquieting answer as the result of an unfair question or an attempt at entrapment. 

Instead of defending Trump’s declaration, Limbaugh reminded listeners who started the conversation: 

Donald Trump did not bring it up. Ted Cruz didn't bring it up. John Kasich didn't bring it up while eating his pizza in New York City with a knife and fork.  Chris Matthews brought this up.  It has been my contention all along -- listen to this again -- that it is not Republicans who lead with the social issues; it's the Democrats who do it because they are trying to score points.  They've got various tricks that they play, narratives and templates that they want to establish. 

Limbaugh referenced Stephanopoulos’ infamous [on the right] contraception question to Romney. He asserted that, in both cases, the questioner badgered the candidate into answering so that Democrats could contend that Republicans wage a war on women. 

As such, Limbaugh redirected his audience’s attention away from Trump’s claim, which infuriated both pro-life and pro-choice advocates. Instead, he urged listeners to focus on the dirty tricks employed by Democrats and their allies masquerading as objective journalists. Given that both Stephanopoulos and Matthews are former Democratic staffers, his listeners had ample reason to accept this interpretation. 

The proliferation of conservative outlets has even resulted in some conservative media members casting aspersion on the conservative credentials of former gold standards like Fox News, which aided Trump as he feuded with Fox star Megyn Kelly (Ironically, the belief that the network has tilted towards Trump drives most conservative consternation with Fox). 

Trump grasps talk radio’s portrayal of the media—recent reporting revealed that an aide fed Trump reports on thousands of hours of talk radio. By frequently lampooning mainstream journalists who cross or criticize him, Trump feeds into the perceptions long held by his fans and voiced by talk radio. 

For example, on March 27, Trump tweeted “Wow, sleepy eyes @chucktodd is at it again. He is do totally biased. The things I am saying are correct. - far better vision than the others.” Trump has even jabbed MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, who has faced accusations of fawning over the billionaire. 

Publications also experience Trump’s Twitter wrath. These attacks further undercut the credibility of their reporting with his supporters, and sync with talk radio’s message on the media. The New York Times, for one, has emerged as a frequent punching bag. On April 24th, Trump tweeted “I am happy to hear how badly the @nytimes is doing. It is a seriously failing paper with readership which is way down. Becoming irrelevant!” Two days later he mused, “How bad is the New York Times—the most inaccurate coverage constantly. Always trying to belittle. Paper has lost its way!”

A mid-May story on Trump’s treatment of women prompted him to trash the Times, tweeting “The failing @nytimes is greatly embarrassed by the totally dishonest story they did on my relationship with women.” He continued, “No wonder the @nytimes is failing—who can believe what they write after the false, malicious & libelous story they did on me.” Weeks later, coverage of Trump’s management style provoked another barrage of caustic tweets targeting the Times. 

Trump’s assault on the media resonated with his fans. Admirer Lynette Hardaway asserted to a reporter, “All those provocative words that the media has been trying to use on him for the past nine months, I believe that they’re lies.”

This mistrust explains why the cascade of negative reporting about Trump has failed to dent his support. Instead his backers dismiss it as the byproduct of a biased media determined to destroy his candidacy. After all, they’ve heard for decades that mainstream journalists rank one step below used car salesmen on the ladder of trustworthiness. 

5 Quick Thoughts on the New Hampshire Results

This post will be my version of a "live" blog on tonight's results. Thirty minutes of writing, minimal editing, a few short points. Apologies in advance for any typos, etc. 

1. Marco Rubio had the most riding on tonight. Finish a strong 2nd, and he could have consolidated establishment support in a 3 way race, and would have been the likely Republican nominee. Instead, however, his nightmare scenario is unfolding.

With 75% of the vote in, he looks likely to narrowly finish fifth. In one quick flash, his path to the nomination became highly murky. With John Kasich finishing 2nd, and Jeb Bush finishing either 3rd or 4th, neither is likely to drop out of the race. Especially in light of Rubio's disastrous debate performance on Saturday night, establishment Republicans who might have favored his electability may now give Kasich and Bush another look. 

Simultaneously, however, Rubio is stuck as the 2nd choice for rock-ribbed conservatives. Many conservative commentators, including Rush Limbaugh, the king of conservative media, have spoken up for Rubio after his debate debacle, reminding viewers, listeners and readers that while his delivery was poor, his point—that President Obama deliberately aims to transform the country—is correct. Yet, conservatives still favor the purer and more bellicose Ted Cruz, who has also outperformed Rubio twice now. 

This situation leaves Rubio blocked in both the establishment and conservative lanes, and it's hard to see how he emerges and where he might win a state. 

2. Conventional wisdom will dictate that Cruz and New Hampshire winner Donald Trump will now engage in a bloodbath in South Carolina, trying to tear each other from limb to limb, as they brawl it out at the top of the Republican pack. In my view, Cruz should resist this temptation and focus on ending Rubio's campaign. 

If he spends his time and money attacking Rubio, Cruz might be able to drive the Florida senator from the race. Do that, and Cruz basically consolidates all of the conservative vote (it's hard to see the hapless, but gentlemanly, Ben Carson soldiering on much past South Carolina, if he lasts that long). With conservatives unified, Cruz can then rely on a superior ground game and start duking it out with Trump in the "SEC" primary on Super Tuesday (dubbed that because of the many Southern states holding elections on that day). 

This scenario would allow Cruz to avoid worrying about being hit on both flanks. Leave Rubio wounded, but alive, and he remains there to peel off votes if Cruz falters, and peskily nip at the Texas senator's heels. 

3. Tonight increases the still low odds of an open Republican convention where no one has enough delegates to secure the nomination going in. It seems likely that tonight's results will keep at least a 5 way race going through at least the aforementioned "SEC" primary. Many of the states in play on March 1st have winner take all systems. 

That means that someone could win all of a state's delegates with a relatively small share of the vote. The more ways that the electoral votes fragments, the greater the likelihood that the race never consolidates and no one ends up with a majority of delegates in advance of the convention. 

4. Bernie Sanders seems to be stitching together an interesting coalition—he won 72% of independents, and whopping percentages of millennials. He also won a majority of moderates. That might indicate that his coalition consists of both idealistic young voters who are drawn to Sanders policy prescriptions AND independents/moderates turned off by Hillary Clinton's ethical baggage. These voters may not love Sanders' policy prescriptions, but they have nowhere else to turn. 

5. If Clinton sees her poll numbers start to erode in South Carolina (where, for the first time this election cycle, the electorate will not be almost entirely white) it may be time for her to go sharply negative on Sanders. She has to convince the young voters drawn to the Vermont senator that, ideal though his policy prescriptions may be, they will also be enormously expensive. Clinton must convey to these voters that they (and their parents) will pay for these policies through sharply higher taxes. 

If Clinton's polling holds in South Carolina, however, she can eschew this sort of tactic, and instead breathe easier as we move from the retail phase of the campaign to the phase in which her superior campaign organization should help her. She also should do better as the campaign moves away from caucus states and New England—both of which lean towards Sanders, because of his passionate base and his New England roots. 

Bonus thought: the true winner tonight? The media. Colorful candidates, a total free-for-all on the Republican side, a Democratic race that will advance far longer than anyone expected, and endless scenarios to discuss. 

The Consequences of a Donald Trump Win

Imagine a steamy night in Cleveland in July. Donald Trump raises his arms in triumph, smirk plastered firmly on his face, as thousands of delegates cheer after his acceptance speech to the Republican Convention. Would the repercussions of this moment wreak havoc on the Republican Party, or even fracture it in two, thereby handing the presidency to Hillary Clinton? 

Two new columns, one by scholar Seth Masket, the other by veteran political analyst Jeff Greenfield, ponder these questions. 

Greenfield muses about the possibility of establishment Republicans greeting a Trump nomination by supporting a third party candidacy by one of their own in an effort to salvage both their brand and down ballot hopes. Masket ruminates about both this potentiality, and the inverse—Trump mounting a third party campaign if he falls short in the primaries. 

The two authors omit one highly possible outcome—no candidate capturing enough delegates to win the nomination before Republicans gather in Cleveland. Under this scenario, Trump might serve as kingmaker, throwing his delegates to an acceptable alternative, say, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who rankles establishment Republicans as much as, if not more than, Trump does. 

While the current nominating process has long consigned dramatic conventions to history books or podcasts—a drama-filled convention last captured the attention of the masses in 1980 when former President Gerald Ford flirted with joining Ronald Reagan as part of a super ticket—such an outcome looms as a possibility. The rise of Super PACs permits candidates to linger long past the point at which their candidacies would have expired over the past forty-five years.

As a result, the field may remain large into March when winner take all primaries begin. If this happened, candidates might capture entire delegations with 25-30% of the vote in a primary. If so, four or five candidates could plausibly accrue enough delegates to prevent any one candidate from locking down the nomination. 

One question for scholars to tackle going forward—has the rise of Super PACs, new media, and social media altered the presidential nominating process (which has remained relatively stable since the democratizing reforms of the late 1960s configured the current process)? Or is 2016 merely an anomaly? 


History offers useful tools and parallels for trying to gauge what impact a Trump nomination might have on the Republican Party. Indeed, both Masket and Greenfield wisely mention historical precedents for the scenarios that they sketch. History also, however, constructs a giant flashing warning sign for anyone tempted to hyperbolize about the impact of a Trump nomination or independent candidacy.  

Any negative repercussions generated by one of these scenarios are likely to be short term in nature. Republicans might lose a 2016 election that would otherwise be winnable. A massive margin of defeat could also catapult Democrats back into control of the Senate, and create enormous down ballot losses. 

Nonetheless, voters have short memories, and Republicans actually would be situated quite nicely for 2018 and 2020.

Twice in the last 52 years the parties have nominated candidates perceived by voters to be outside of the mainstream, prompting crushing defeats (Barry Goldwater for the Republicans in 1964 and George McGovern for the Democrats in 1972). Both times the respective party rebounded to win both large victories in the midterm election and the presidency four years later (though in the latter case, Watergate produced a highly unique situation). 

In a third historical case, 1912, the Republicans fragmented, propelling dueling candidacies—with former President Teddy Roosevelt representing the Progressive Party and incumbent President William Howard Taft serving as the Republican standard bearer. Yet, the party reunified in 1916 and came agonizingly close (within 23 electoral votes) to defeating the incumbent president, Woodrow Wilson. 

Furthermore, history tells us that parties face exceptionally long odds when trying to hold the White House for four consecutive terms. Republicans have achieved this goal twice since the Civil War— first beginning in 1868, and again beginning in 1896. In both cases they failed to maintain control for a fifth term, with Democrats Grover Cleveland and Wilson triumphing in 1884 and 1912 respectively. 

Franklin Roosevelt also captured four straight presidential elections between 1932 and 1944, but he benefitted from voters' reluctance to change horses in the middle of a war, and his margin of victory shrank from to 60.8% in 1936 to 53.4% in 1944.

When Roosevelt's final Vice President, Harry Truman, eked out a come from behind victory in 1948, allowing the Democrats to hold serve for an unprecedented (in the post-Civil War era) fifth consecutive term, he did so with only 49.5% of the vote over a progressive Republican ticket of Thomas Dewey and Earl Warren. 

In two other cases, 1932 and 1992, the Republicans aimed to maintain control of the White House for a fourth consecutive term. Instead, they suffered from voters' tendency to punish the incumbent party for all of society's ailments after such a long stretch in power.

All of this analysis indicates that, regardless of how bleak things might appear for Republicans on election night 2016, we must resist the temptation to proclaim the party dead for the foreseeable future. In reality, a Democratic tsunami in 2016 could easily trigger Republican triumphs in the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 presidential election.

Under this scenario, the Republicans would be tremendously situated to regain the Senate in 2018 because Democrats must defend a whopping twenty-five of thirty-three seats on the ballot. 


The analysis proffered by Greenfield and Masket necessitates one more observation. Both mention the influential book The Party Decides. Masket writes: 

Without the support of party insiders, explains the influential book The Party Decides, one can't really mount a serious presidential candidacy. But as one of the book's authors, David Karol, recently noted, Trump is the rare sort of candidate who's an exception. He's been so famous and so rich for so long, he's largely impervious to party insiders' efforts to push him out of the race. 

Greenfield echoes this contention, noting that Trump's nomination "would undermine the thesis of a highly influential book, “The Party Decides,” which argues that the preferences of party insiders is still critical to the outcome of a nomination contest."

I disagree with these lines of analysis. Rather than undermining the thesis of The Party Decides, Trump's nomination (or even the nomination of Senator Cruz, which just might provoke more handwringing from establishment Republicans than Trump's ascension) would actually reflect a crucial finding from my own research—the titans of the new media (talk radio, cable news, and the blogosphere) represent a new form of party insider.

Cruz actually provides a better case study than Trump. Establishment Republicans loathe Cruz. In September, his own Senate colleagues demonstrated their enmity by denying him a common procedural courtesy. Recently, Republican luminary Bob Dole slammed the senator. In early December, the New York Times' Jonathan Martin even reported that some Republicans repelled by Trump hesitated to attack him for fear that it would advance Cruz's candidacy! 

Equally importantly, unlike Trump, Cruz doesn't have decades of fame and celebrity to propel his candidacy in the face of resistance from traditional insiders. So Karol's exception wouldn't apply to him. Nonetheless, like Trump, Cruz's candidacy is flourishing. 

Both The Party Decides and Masket's own research argue quite cogently that we ought to construe modern parties broadly. Yet both omit new media titans, such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Erick Erickson, and Mark Levin, when considering party insiders or party leaders. My own research, by contrast, indicates that these media personalities actually epitomize the new sort of leader who dominates parties today. 

These media luminaries perform many traditional leadership functions—exciting voters in the waning days before elections, fundraising for candidates, etc. They also perform unique functions enabled by their platforms, including offering a sympathetic outlet in moments of crisis, energizing base voters at moments of disillusionment, and disseminating stories that the mainstream media might consider dubious or not newsworthy. 

Yet, media personalities, like other sorts of activist, outsider party leaders, prioritize the achievement of their preferred policy agenda over the party's electoral well being. They also place greater emphasis on maintaining a strong relationship with their listeners/viewers/readers and producing the best content possible than on Republican victories. 

Nonetheless, they wield tremendous power within the party coalition. The nomination of either Trump or Cruz would reflect their ability (along with activist allies) to guide the party's course. Greenfield perceptively observes that many of these media leaders have defended Trump against the establishment onslaught. Many of them also regularly rhapsodize about Cruz. 

The bold clarity presented by Cruz, and Trump's bluntness advance all of the goals emphasized by new media personalities. Both candidates' unvarnished approach also connects with the consumers of new media, who have marinated in anger for decades at the Republican Party's willingness to betray their principles in the name of electoral gains, pragmatism, or governing.

Media titans capably channel this anger into campaigns and employ the values that they share with their deeply conservative audiences to assess the candidates and their issue positions. Many of them also express little patience for establishment favorites. 

Put more bluntly, when appropriately conceptualizing today's decentralized parties, a Trump (or Cruz) nomination would actually support the argument proffered in The Party Decides. If anything, it would require an addendum to reimagine what constitutes a party insider in 2016. 

In a world in which new media, social media, and Super PACs diffuse power far more broadly than in the past, parties bear little resemblance to the parties of the 1950s, or even the 1980s. 

Overall, Trump might obliterate Republican dreams up and down the ballot in 2016. But whatever impact he has, it likely will only last through the end of this election cycle.