August 13, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Embracing the GOP’s crazy isn’t crazy
Yes, Trump is running on bigotry. Our system rewards that.
Nate Silver’s team of data journalists released its highly anticipated survey this week showing the president has a 29 percent chance of getting reelected while Joe Biden has a 71 percent chance of defeating him. This kind of punditry should give you heartburn.
I don’t mean because we were fooled last time. I mean this kind of data analysis presumes too much. One, that the election will be fair. Two, that the results will be clear. Three, that Donald Trump will accept the results. The survey’s intent is assessing likely outcomes, but its effect is suggesting there’s more stability than there really is. Put differently, it doesn’t see, because it cannot see, baked-in forms of chaos. Our political system was designed in such a way as to incentivize its own undoing.
We could talk about reforming the system, by nuking the filibuster or adding a state, but I’d rather talk about the problem. Most people do not appreciate how bad it is.
Remember these facts: the president does not need to win a majority of the national vote. He does not need to win a majority of votes in any particular state. Indeed, no one, not even the president and his GOP confederates, expects him to win a majority of votes, nationwide or statewide. The only thing that matters is a handful of states and their electoral votes, because people will not determine the outcome. Only states will.
The Republicans understand their advantage is structural, not political. And in case you’re wondering, no, they do not feel guilty about it being anti-democratic. Should Trump win the Electoral College vote, they will declare him the rightful and legitimate president even though 2020 would mark the third time in six elections in which a Republican lost the popular vote. For reasons like this, the Republican Party will not change. Not if Trump loses. Not if he dies in a landslide. The political system itself is far too advantageous. The only way to change the GOP is to change the system.
Here’s the tip jar! Put something nice in it!
We could talk about reforms, like nuking the filibuster or adding a state, but I’d rather talk about the problem. Most people do not appreciate how bad it is. They’d rather think the way Nate Silver and his team thinks—Trump has this or that much chance of losing, Biden has this or that much chance of winning, giving the impression that the country is this close to returning to normal. It’s highly numerate analysis, yes, but it’s highly myopic. It fails to see, because it was not intended to see, our system is the problem. If we return to normal, it’s a matter of time till we’re back where we are.
Consider the case of Marjorie Taylor Greene, who won a Republican primary Tuesday and is now heading for Washington. She’s a promoter of “the QAnon conspiracy theory, whose followers believe Trump is battling a cabal of ‘deep state’ saboteurs of his administration who worship Satan and traffic children for sex,” according to reporting by the Post. “She has also made racist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic comments, asserting that Black people are ‘held slaves to the Democratic Party,’ likening the election of the first two Muslim women to Congress to an ‘Islamic invasion of our government’ and calling George Soros, the liberal Jewish donor and Holocaust survivor, a ‘Nazi himself trying to continue what was not finished.’”
Naked racism, antisemitism and Islamophobia are bad things in our current climate, so you’d think the Republicans would run away, screaming. They aren’t. Not only is the president embracing Greene as one of his own; the House Republicans are looking forward to seating her (though some have expressed misgivings in private). This is being interpreted as the last gasp of a political party unraveling completely, a party that’s prepared to commit suicide. It’s just crazy to welcome someone that crazy!
No, it’s rational. First, because Greene is from a safe district. The more extreme the Republican candidate, the better. Second, because “willingness to tolerate extreme and bigoted positions,” as the Post put it, aligns perfectly with the Republican Party’s structural advantages. Racism and the other forms of bigotry, while they might appear to be dangerous liabilities, are in fact quite valuable assets. Chaos and fascism are not buggy glitches in the American political system. They are, alas, immanent features.
In the hours since Biden tapped Kamala Harris as his running mate, the president had waded farther into the slough of sadism. The farther he goes, according to critics, the stronger Biden gets. Well, maybe, depending on the size of November’s electorate. All things being equal, which is a realistic starting point, that kind of thinking may be as myopic as Silver’s team’s: it does not take into account the Republicans’ built-in advantages. The president and his allies are not crazy to think going full-bore fascist is good campaign strategy. Going to the wall isn’t suicidal when the wall is on your side. All he has to do is move just enough people in just enough states. Even if Trump loses, someone will replace him, eventually, and he will have a GOP-friendly system to thank.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.