Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal, a columnist I truly respect for his well-spoken perspective on foreign policy, has now declared war on the base of the Republican Party. Mocking the members of that base as angry nuts desperate to lose to Hillary Clinton so they can continue wallowing in their outrage, Stephens writes that unless Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) receives the Republican nomination, Hillary is sure to win.
Which the establishment also said about John McCain. And Mitt Romney.
Let us now pledge to elect Hillary Clinton as the 45th president of the United States. Let’s skip the petty dramas of primaries and caucuses, the debate histrionics, the sour spectacle of the convention in Cleveland. Let’s fast-forward past that sinking October feeling when we belatedly realize we’re going to lose—and lose badly…. Let’s do this because it’s what we want. Maybe secretly, maybe unconsciously, but desperately. We want four—and probably eight—more years of cable-news neuralgia. We want to drive ourselves to work as Mark Levin or Laura Ingraham scratch our ideological itches until they bleed a little. We want the refiner’s fire that is our righteous indignation at a country we claim no longer to recognize—ruled by impostors and overrun by foreigners.
Now, nobody wants to lose to Hillary Clinton. But the establishment is projecting here. They are the ones threatening to leave the GOP if Trump is the nominee; they are the ones sticking stubbornly with Rubio even though viable alternative Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is now running neck-and-neck with Trump nationally and ahead in Iowa. In fact, Stephens calls Cruz as unpalatable as Trump with this nasty slur:
Mr. Cruz is happy to be on any side of an issue so long as he can paint himself as a “real Republican”—the implicit goal here being the automatic excommunication of anyone who disagrees with him. Naturally, he’s rising.
What absolute, self-serving hogwash. Cruz has been incredibly consistent, far more so than Rubio. In fact, Cruz and Trump were both leaders on one of Stephens’ chief priorities, stopping the Iran deal that Stephens’ beloved GOP establishment allowed to breeze through Congress.
But that doesn’t matter. In order to demonstrate that they aren’t the whiny pick-up-the-political-football-and-go-home types, however, the GOP establishment must insist that Mitt Romney didn’t lose because they picked him – no, it was somehow the base’s fault. And it will be the base’s fault again if Cruz or Trump gets the nomination. Stephens, for example, suggests that Romney lost not because of Obamacare or failure to sufficiently characterize President Obama’s failures, but because he wasn’t welcoming enough to minorities. When the answer is always more moderation, the question no longer matters:
If the lesson of Mitt Romney’s predictable loss in 2012 was that it’s bad politics to tell America’s fastest-growing ethnic group that some of their relatives should self-deport, or to castigate 47% of the country as a bunch of moochers—well, so what? Abraham Lincoln once said “If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.” What. Ever. Now the party of Lincoln has as its front-runner an insult machine whose political business is to tell Mexicans, Muslims, physically impaired journalists, astute Jewish negotiators and others who cross his sullen gaze that he has no use for them or their political correctness.
Worth noting: Abraham Lincoln won a grand total of less than 40 percent of the national vote, and after his election, half the country seceded. That’s not Lincoln’s fault. But it does suggest that his mode of electoral politics was not quite the same as this lofty quotation.
But beyond that, Stephens seems to think that Romney lost because he was too harsh, and that Trump doubles down on the harsh. If only Romney had been smoother and more friendly, Republicans would have won. If only the base didn’t embrace candidates who alienate “not just Hispanics, or Asian-Americans or gays and lesbians, but also moderates turned off by loudmouth vulgarians, oleaginous debate champs or ostentatiously pious Christians,” we’d win. Except that John McCain and Mitt Romney were none of these, and we lost.
But never mind that. Anyone who disagrees with Bret Stephens wants to lose.
It apparently never occurs to Stephens that there could be a rational counternarrative: that Romney lost because he was too nice to win. It never occurs to him that Romney could have won in excess of 70 percent of the Hispanic vote and lost, or that victory wasn’t to be found in West Hollywood – or that it might be a risky political strategy to alienate evangelical Christians in favor of those groups.
No, according to Stephens, the only reason to disagree with him is a collective political death wish by the base:
What we won’t accept, however, is a standard-bearer whose convictions or personality might conceivably appeal to those wavering voters who usually decide elections in this country. Of all the reasons to dislike Mr. Rubio, surely the greatest is that he’s the only Republican who consistently outpolls Mrs. Clinton in general election matchups. Didn’t we already mention that our subliminal goal is to lose this election?
In truth, it’s the subliminal goal of the establishment GOP to keep control of the Party. That’s all that matters. It’s not that they hate Trump. They also hate Cruz. They’d hate anyone who threatens the top-down orientation of the Republican hierarchy. They’d rather elect Hillary than figure out a compromise with the base.
So instead they insult the base, and pretend that the base is the problem.