In elections, in addition to hoping that your party ends up with the candidate whom you think has the best ideas and also the best chance of winning, you also hope that the other side ends up with the candidate with the best chance of losing. Hence each side has an incentive to boost the other side’s weaker candidate and cheer on the decline of the candidate that may be the strongest. Some people go beyond that and actually try to bring about the worst result for the opponents. But is such negative strategizing wise?
In the current US presidential race, the Democrats are likely hoping that either one of the current Republican front runners Donald Trump and Ben Carson end up as the Republican nominee, seeing them as so far out there that they will get crushed in the general election. The failure of the establishment candidate like Jeb Bush is seen as a good thing, though there are other potentially establishment candidates like Marco Rubio who might be able to step into the breach. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, although an extremist on policy, was seen has having a moderate enough image to be a serious threat and his early exit was a relief for the Democrats. John Kasich is in the Walker mold and is looked on favorably by the establishment but he too seems to be unable to gain traction, likely pleasing Democrats.
Things are not so clear for the Republicans. They obviously fear Hillary Clinton the most and have launched a massive and concerted attack to try and increase her unpopularity. They seem to think that they have a better chance against Bernie Sanders because they can successful paint his positions as too far out of the mainstream (which they are actually not), and Martin O’Malley, while harder to paint as an extremist, may have a difficult time gaining sufficient name recognition to win.
But is negative strategizing a good thing? Suppose the Democratic strategy works and either Trump or Carson wins the Republican nomination. Can we be really sure that they will lose the general election? What if they win? That would be a disastrous outcome with Carson being worse because he is an ignorant egotistical religious ideologue who seems to be living in a dream world where he actually believes his delusions. Trump, while a bombastic egotistical opportunist, is not entirely divorced from reality,
The possibility of either winning should not be discounted too easily. After all, the GOP establishment and the media has pretty much gone to war against Trump but his popularity has not been dented. What is to say that when the election is just between him and the Democratic candidate, enough people find his message, whatever the hell it is, appealing enough to vote for him? And the same applies to Carson. Remember that since only about 55-60% of the electorate votes, all you need is about 30% support to win the general election. Given that polls consistently show that a
quarter fifth (see the comment) of the American public believes the most crazy things and will even vote for ridiculous candidates, it would not take much of a shift for 30% to vote for either person. This election has entered uncharted waters and it is dangerous to rule out any option as too extreme to consider based on past experience.
If Trump or Carson does gain the Republican nomination, what will the Republican party establishment do in the general election? Remember that the ruling oligarchy wants candidates whom they can control and are predictable. The oligarchy does not care much for social issues and indeed is quite liberal on the hot-button GRAGGS issues (guns, race, abortion, god, gays, sex), using them just as a means to win elections. What they really care about are lowering taxes, eliminating all regulations and oversight on their activities (this is underlying message of ‘their ‘government is too big’ mantra), and allowing for the free flow of capital across the globe. But above all, they want stability, which is why they prefer dictators and authoritarian governments to democracy.
Faced with the choice between Trump/Carson and Clinton, I think their choice would be clear. They would support Clinton because she is a loyal servant of oligarchic interests. But if the Democrat is Sanders, then their choice becomes much more difficult. Do they go with the volatile and possibly crazy Republican who supports their core mission but may do other wild things? Or do they go with the clearly sensible and sane Sanders who will go against their core interests? I suspect that greed will win over the desire for stability and they will stick with the Republican.
So while Trump and Carson are undoubtedly making the political race interesting and watching the resulting discomfiture of the Republican establishment provides considerable schadenfreude, I am becoming increasingly uneasy about whether they are as transient a phenomenon as people seem to think.