Horse and Rider

Who’s the horse and who’s the rider?

As the spectacle of Donald Trump continues, as we come to grips with the hitherto unthinkable possibility that he might actually ride a simmering stew of fear, rage and hate to the nomination, political observers are speculating about possible reactions and consequences.

At Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Ed Brayton looks back at other candidates who have caused heartburn—from Barry Goldwater to David Duke—and quotes Jeff Greenfield for a surprising prediction:

With Trump as its standard-bearer, the GOP would suddenly be asked to rally around a candidate who has been called by his once and former primary foes “a cancer on conservatism,” “unhinged,” “a drunk driver … helping the enemy.” A prominent conservative national security expert, Max Boot, has flatly labeled him “a fascist.” And the rhetoric is even stronger in private conversations I’ve had recently with Republicans of moderate and conservative stripes.

This is not the usual rhetoric of intraparty battles, the kind of thing that gets resolved in handshakes under the convention banners. These are stake-in-the-ground positions, strongly suggesting that a Trump nomination would create a fissure within the party as deep and indivisible as any in American political history, driven both by ideology and by questions of personal character.

Indeed, it would be a fissure so deep that, if the operatives I talked with are right, Trump running as a Republican could well face a third-party run—from the Republicans themselves.

Greenfield’s entire column, linked by Brayton, is worth reading and pondering. But even more thought-provoking is Brayton’s “take” on Greenfield’s analysis and the current deep divisions within the GOP:

As much as some on the left like to think of the enemy as a single monolith, there are very deep divisions within the GOP. If you don’t believe that, ask John Boehner. I’ve been writing about this since 2010, when the Republican party made the fateful decision to try to ride the Tea Party horse into power. It worked then, allowing them to take over the House and most state legislatures and governerships.

But as I said at the time, this was not a horse that they could break and they quickly realized that when they lost control of their own caucus in the House to extremists who view any compromise as a literal betrayal. This is what spawned the likes of Ted Cruz, and it’s the kind of temperament that Trump is giving voice to. There is a war within the GOP that at some point has to open up into open warfare, as it has for both parties at various times in the past. And Trump could either declare the war himself or have it declared upon him.

This is the sort of scenario that gives new meaning to the old admonition: be careful what you wish for.

And before you saddle up that horse, be sure you can ride it….