Why No Trump Congress?

 

As you’ve likely heard, Senators Marco Rubio and John McCain coasted to significant victories last night in their respective primaries, in much the same way that Speaker Paul Ryan easily bested his Trumpian challenger earlier in the month. As Charles C. W. Cooke writes writes on NRO, this suggests an obvious question:

In Arizona last night, John McCain beat his primary opponent by ten points. McCain was a key member of the “Gang of Eight.” He has a reputation as a “squish.” He has been an elected official since 1982. Why weren’t these figures swept away? How, in this “climate,” could they possibly have won? Where was the “anger”; the “frustration”; the “revolt”? Back in 2010, the Tea Party became a credible movement because it actually got its candidates nominated — and elected. What, other than benefit briefly from a perfect storm, has the Trump Party done?

Cooke concludes that Trump is sui generis and that his win in the primaries is better understood as a testimony to Trump’s personality, skill, and good fortune than to his policy positions or a genuine anti-incumbency movement.

I’d wager that Cooke is correct and that Trumpism is a one-hit wonder whose success in the presidential primaries will be extremely difficult to reproduce. However, that’s a very convenient conclusion for a NeverTrumper — like Cooke or me — to draw and it’s always a mistake to stop at the first theory fits the facts, especially if it’s narratively satisfying.

One alternative — or, perhaps, complimentary — theory is that the Tea Party is the victim of its own success. To begin with, it taught the Republican Party that a party revolt actually can send long-term incumbents packing, as it did Bob Bennett, Charlie Crist, Trey Grayson, and Mike Castle, among others. If you’ll forgive an unkind analogy, it’s similar to how al-Qaeda’s success on 9-11 made any subsequent attempts to hijack aircraft significantly more difficult. Moreover, several of those once-scrappy-challengers (e.g., Rubio) are now the established incumbents.

The problem with this theory is that it doesn’t explain how Trump could have succeeded at the presidential level (against some of the same players) while his followers have largely failed elsewhere (to be clear, Trump-friendly candidates have won primaries, at least two unseating incumbent congressmen). On the other hand, the 2012 election had no credible Tea Party candidate, so there may have been a mistaken assumption that that sort of thing couldn’t happen at that level.

Any other alternative theories?

There are 39 comments.

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  1. Kevin Creighton Contributor

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: I’d wager that Cooke is correct and that Trumpism is a one-hit wonder whose success in the presidential primaries will be extremely difficult to reproduce. However, that’s a very convenient conclusion for a NeverTrumper — like Cooke or me — to draw and it’s always a mistake to stop at the first theory fits the facts, especially if it’s narratively satisfying.

    Well, I’m not a Never Trumper*, and I think that’s essentially correct.


    * Oy, now there’s a tortured sentence.

    • #1
    • August 31, 2016, at 9:18 AM PDT
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  2. KC Mulville Inactive

    I think it’s obvious. Politics really is local … and basically, the politics on the state level and lower haven’t changed much. But the national news media has an over-sized effect on the national race, and the national news media is what made Trump in the first place.

    Trump is McLuhan’s nightmare.

    • #2
    • August 31, 2016, at 9:18 AM PDT
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  3. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    KC Mulville:I think it’s obvious. Politics really is local … and basically, the politics on the state level and lower haven’t changed much. But the national news media has an over-sized effect on the national race, and the national news media is what made Trump in the first place.

    Trump is McLuhan’s nightmare.

    I think that this is right. In another thread, someone called the Presidency more talismanic. I think this is right. The further you are from the person, the more the remove, the more symbol replaces substance.

    • #3
    • August 31, 2016, at 9:20 AM PDT
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  4. KC Mulville Inactive

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: it’s always a mistake to stop at the first theory fits the facts, especially if it’s narratively satisfying.

    By the way, I really like the way you phrased this.

    • #4
    • August 31, 2016, at 9:20 AM PDT
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  5. Austin Murrey Inactive

    I’d need more data to draw a conclusion (I’m sure it’s there) but, generally, McCain, Rubio and Ryan probably benefited from having a smaller field, being tied into their state machine and from a smaller voting pool of more Republican – not conservative mind you – voters than the average Republican presidential primary.

    I imagine there’s also a lot of the non-Trump voters who look in horror at the poll numbers and are willing to back status quo candidates in the hopes of retaining House and Senate.

    • #5
    • August 31, 2016, at 9:24 AM PDT
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  6. Randy Weivoda Moderator

    Looks like McCain will be one of those guys who dies in office because he doesn’t believe the country can possibly get by without him. Is being a senator that much fun that so many people are unwilling to retire?

    • #6
    • August 31, 2016, at 9:27 AM PDT
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  7. Sabrdance Member

    I would be hesitant to say Trump is sui generis, not because I think it is wrong (it strikes me as having the most plausibility), but because presidential nominations -long, drawn out, state by state, many debates, largely hashed in national press -are very different from the short, single day, few debates, locally covered state primaries. Trump may not be able to replicate in the smaller environment a system that relies very heavily on the divisions of the nation over time, but someone else could replicate Trump nationally.

    • #7
    • August 31, 2016, at 9:29 AM PDT
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  8. Profile Photo Member

    “McCain’s SuperPAC …is touting Trump’s endorsement in mailers and a radio ad…”

    This hasn’t stopped conservative establishment media from pushing a fake narrative this morning. But they are straight-shooters, unlike those talk-radio types, right?

    • #8
    • August 31, 2016, at 9:30 AM PDT
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  9. Jamie Lockett Inactive

    I think this is essentially correct. This does call into question the NeverTrump position that Trump is an existential threat to conservatism. And I say that as a NeverTrumper.

    • #9
    • August 31, 2016, at 9:38 AM PDT
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  10. billy Inactive

    Maybe Trump’s success is not a sign of some grand sweeping movement among the Republican electorate, but rather a matter of simple name recognition?

    Could it be that primary voters went to the polls, knew two of the names- Bush and Trump- and voted accordingly?

    • #10
    • August 31, 2016, at 9:51 AM PDT
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  11. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    KC Mulville:

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: it’s always a mistake to stop at the first theory fits the facts, especially if it’s narratively satisfying.

    By the way, I really like the way you phrased this.

    That’s just what someone like you would say, isn’t it? ;)

    • #11
    • August 31, 2016, at 9:56 AM PDT
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  12. Matt Bartle Member

    Well, incumbency is always a huge advantage.

    And while Congress as a whole has poor ratings, I’ve read that most people like their representatives.

    • #12
    • August 31, 2016, at 9:56 AM PDT
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  13. Umbra Fractus Inactive

    Jamie Lockett:I think this is essentially correct. This does call into question the NeverTrump position that Trump is an existential threat to conservatism. And I say that as a NeverTrumper.

    You’re not the only NeverTrumper who’s had this thought.

    • #13
    • August 31, 2016, at 9:59 AM PDT
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  14. Jamie Lockett Inactive

    Umbra Fractus:

    Jamie Lockett:I think this is essentially correct. This does call into question the NeverTrump position that Trump is an existential threat to conservatism. And I say that as a NeverTrumper.

    You’re not the only NeverTrumper who’s had this thought.

    Hey, at least we’re honest right?

    • #14
    • August 31, 2016, at 10:01 AM PDT
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  15. Randy Weivoda Moderator

    billy:Maybe Trump’s success is not a sign of some grand sweeping movement among the Republican electorate, but rather a matter of simple name recognition?

    Could it be that primary voters went to the polls, knew two of the names- Bush and Trump- and voted accordingly?

    It could be. The members of Ricochet take these things seriously, but we don’t make up the electorate at large. My mother has liked Donald Trump from the beginning. It’s not because she has analyzed his policy proposals, she’s just seen him on TV a lot. She also liked Mike Huckabee for the same reason.

    • #15
    • August 31, 2016, at 10:01 AM PDT
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  16. Israel P. Inactive

    Randy Weivoda:Looks like McCain will be one of those guys who dies in office because he doesn’t believe the country can possibly get by without him. Is being a senator that much fun that so many people are unwilling to retire?

    He’s obviously not on board with that “citizen legislator” thing. Nor are his voters.

    • #16
    • August 31, 2016, at 10:09 AM PDT
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  17. rico Inactive

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:Cooke concludes that Trump is sui generis and that his win in the primaries is better understood as a testimony to Trump’s personality, skill, and good fortune than to his policy positions or a genuine anti-incumbency movement.

    I’d wager that Cooke is correct and that Trumpism is a one-hit wonder whose success in the presidential primaries will be extremely difficult to reproduce.

    I’d wager with you (although I wouldn’t dismiss the notion of anti-incumbency as a factor) and that’s why I believe that many (disclaimer: I know, not all!) NeverTrumpers are needlessly fearful of Trump somehow destroying the Conservative movement. There is no real support for Trumpism in Congress today, and no sign of any serious support for Trumpism in the next Congress. A President Trump would face serious opposition from both party delegations if he were to wander off in an extreme direction. He is savvy enough to realize that he’ll get more and better “deals” done by minimizing opposition, particularly within his own party.

    As for explaining why he won the nomination…

    Let’s face it, if you show a kid a handful of marbles and ask him to choose one, he’s pretty likely to choose the one purie if all the others are cat’s eyes (or vice-versa). That explains how Trump leveraged his outsider status and star power to win a plurality.

    • #17
    • August 31, 2016, at 10:34 AM PDT
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  18. Blondie Thatcher

    Randy Weivoda:Looks like McCain will be one of those guys who dies in office because he doesn’t believe the country can possibly get by without him. Is being a senator that much fun that so many people are unwilling to retire?

    Not fun, lucrative. Just ask Harry Reid. It took an exercise machine to convince him to get out.

    • #18
    • August 31, 2016, at 10:41 AM PDT
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  19. Salvatore Padula Inactive

    My take is that it’s a mixture of locally attuned incumbents, the fact that much of Trumpism is based on the personally cult of The Donald, and the one-on-one nature of the primaries. Trump won a plurality in large part due to his opposition being split between numerous candidates. Actual Trumpists (as opposed to NeverHillary ReluctantTrumpers) are not even close to being a majority of the party.

    • #19
    • August 31, 2016, at 10:53 AM PDT
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  20. rico Inactive

    Blondie:

    Randy Weivoda:Looks like McCain will be one of those guys who dies in office because he doesn’t believe the country can possibly get by without him. Is being a senator that much fun that so many people are unwilling to retire?

    Not fun, lucrative. Just ask Harry Reid. It took an exercise machine to convince him to get out.

    Yeah, that machine was definitely exercised.

    • #20
    • August 31, 2016, at 11:10 AM PDT
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  21. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    Jamie Lockett:I think this is essentially correct. This does call into question the NeverTrump position that Trump is an existential threat to conservatism. And I say that as a NeverTrumper.

    Wow. Conservatism is that weak, it is going to get knocked off by something.

    • #21
    • August 31, 2016, at 11:15 AM PDT
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  22. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    Maybe Americans just like a divided Congress and Whitehouse. They have seemed to like it that way for a while now.

    • #22
    • August 31, 2016, at 11:16 AM PDT
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  23. Z in MT Inactive

    Randy Weivoda:

    billy:Maybe Trump’s success is not a sign of some grand sweeping movement among the Republican electorate, but rather a matter of simple name recognition?

    Could it be that primary voters went to the polls, knew two of the names- Bush and Trump- and voted accordingly?

    It could be. The members of Ricochet take these things seriously, but we don’t make up the electorate at large. My mother has liked Donald Trump from the beginning. It’s not because she has analyzed his policy proposals, she’s just seen him on TV a lot. She also liked Mike Huckabee for the same reason.

    You can’t ignore that Donald Trump had a major network TV show for 10? years. That help a ton in name recognition. The presidency is now officially a celebrity contest.

    • #23
    • August 31, 2016, at 12:03 PM PDT
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  24. Guruforhire Member

    Because trump is a garden variety republican within the mainstream of the party just like everybody else.

    That is a trump congress.

    • #24
    • August 31, 2016, at 12:06 PM PDT
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  25. A-Squared Inactive

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:Cooke concludes that Trump is sui generis and that his win in the primaries is better understood as a testimony to Trump’s personality, skill, and good fortune than to his policy positions or a genuine anti-incumbency movement.

    I’d wager that Cooke is correct and that Trumpism is a one-hit wonder whose success in the presidential primaries will be extremely difficult to reproduce. However, that’s a very convenient conclusion for a NeverTrumper — like Cooke or me — to draw and it’s always a mistake to stop at the first theory fits the facts, especially if it’s narratively satisfying.

    The challenging question is, how much of Trump’s success in the primaries is the result of his near universal name recognition among an increasingly uneducated electorate? In other words, is Trump’s primary victory an example of the “Kardashianization” of politics more so than any “anti-incumbency” movement.

    If yes, it will very easy to reproduce. I guarantee you, we will see another reality TV star attempt to reproduce his success. Kanye West has already thrown his hat in the ring for 2020, and since Republicans have acknowledged that they no longer care about principles, maybe he will run as a Republican.

    • #25
    • August 31, 2016, at 12:18 PM PDT
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  26. Herbert defender of the Realm,… Inactive

    rico:

    Let’s face it, if you show a kid a handful of marbles and ask him to choose one, he’s pretty likely to choose the one purie if all the others are cat’s eyes (or vice-versa). That explains how Trump leveraged his outsider status and star power to win a plurality.

    So the orange hue is a designed feature, not a bug…

    • #26
    • August 31, 2016, at 12:25 PM PDT
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  27. Randy Weivoda Moderator

    A-Squared: I guarantee you, we will see another reality TV star attempt to reproduce his success. Kanye West has already thrown his hat in the ring for 2020, and since Republicans have acknowledged that they no longer care about principles, maybe he will run as a Republican.

    Kanye West has said he’ll be running as a Democrat. I expect it will be Ted Nugent running as a Republican, probably with Sean Hannity for VP.

    • #27
    • August 31, 2016, at 12:31 PM PDT
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  28. A-Squared Inactive

    Randy Weivoda:

    A-Squared: I guarantee you, we will see another reality TV star attempt to reproduce his success. Kanye West has already thrown his hat in the ring for 2020, and since Republicans have acknowledged that they no longer care about principles, maybe he will run as a Republican.

    Kanye West has said he’ll be running as a Democrat. I expect it will be Ted Nugent running as a Republican, probably with Sean Hannity for VP.

    I missed that bit of gossip, though it doesn’t surprise me.

    I think Ted Nugent is too smart to run for President, Hannity on the other hand…

    • #28
    • August 31, 2016, at 12:37 PM PDT
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  29. Austin Murrey Inactive

    Randy Weivoda:

    A-Squared: I guarantee you, we will see another reality TV star attempt to reproduce his success. Kanye West has already thrown his hat in the ring for 2020, and since Republicans have acknowledged that they no longer care about principles, maybe he will run as a Republican.

    Kanye West has said he’ll be running as a Democrat. I expect it will be Ted Nugent running as a Republican, probably with Sean Hannity for VP.

    If Kanye and Ted run against each other they may agree to settle the election with a duel.

    Actually that might be an improvement.

    • #29
    • August 31, 2016, at 12:57 PM PDT
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  30. rico Inactive

    Herbert:

    rico:

    Let’s face it, if you show a kid a handful of marbles and ask him to choose one, he’s pretty likely to choose the one purie if all the others are cat’s eyes (or vice-versa). That explains how Trump leveraged his outsider status and star power to win a plurality.

    So the orange hue is a designed feature, not a bug…

    That’s what I’m sayin’.

    • #30
    • August 31, 2016, at 1:24 PM PDT
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