Jim Clark: May the least worst candidate win (opinion)
May 18, 2016
"No modern precedent exists for the revival of a party so badly defeated, so intensely discredited and so essentially split as the Republican Party is today."
That quote appeared in a recent Washington Post opinion column by E.J. Dionne, preaching to loyal Republicans the wisdom of rejecting the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump.
Arch-liberal Dionne was trying to spook Republicans into electoral inaction or frittering their votes on a third party candidate with a doomsday quote that first appeared in 1966 following Barry Goldwater's drubbing by Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 presidential election.
Dionne doesn't remind us that 1966 was the same year Republicans picked up 47 seats in the House of Representatives, that 1968 was the year Nixon won the White House, and that in the 1972 election Democrat Walter Mondale won only one state — Minnesota — while Nixon bagged the other forty-nine. He doesn't mention that in 1980, after a one term Carter presidency, Republican Ronald Reagan's election kicked off a 12-year GOP lease on the White House.
Maybe "discredited" and "split" are conditions necessary for a political party to bounce back to new highs. Or maybe Dionne was engaging in wishful thinking predicting dismal prospects for a GOP victory in 2016.
But consider: In 1964 Johnson had just succeeded brutally assassinated John Kennedy, had just nursed the popular Civil Rights Act through Congress signing it in July, and was leading Goldwater in the Gallup Poll 79 to 18.
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Following the Gulf of Tonkin "attack," Johnson bombed Hanoi and became a wartime president so Americans rallied to him. Only later did the Vietnam War destroy his presidency.
When Dionne wrote his column, Trump trailed Clinton in polls by as much as 50 to 39 percent. However, Trump's election victories brought out voters never before seen at a Republican primary and the total GOP vote was up while Democratic primary vote this year was lower than in 2008.
Moreover, polls have shifted in the interim, now showing both candidates running about even nationally, with Trump ahead in critical states like Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio. While Trump is working on GOP unity, Clinton still must face Democratic Party unity issues as she continues her struggle to put Bernie Sanders away.
Polls change as campaigns drag on, so although it's premature to be handicapping a Trump-Clinton matchup, people do it to sell magazines.
Peter Beinhart wrote in the Atlantic: "The good news is that for all his astonishing success so far in exploiting white racial resentment, anti-immigrant fervor, and Islamophobia, Donald Trump is not going to beat Hillary Clinton."
Jamelle Bossie wrote in Slate.com: "To have any chance of winning Trump would have to earn some 3 million votes more than Romney did four years ago and capture nearly all the swing states. If Hillary Clinton takes all the usual 'blue' states she will need only one or two swing states … to become our next president."
"Forget the old electoral map," wrote Ben Geier in Fortune.com. Unlike Mitt Romney, Trump is campaigning as an economic populist. If he hammers home his pledge to bring jobs back from overseas, painting Clinton as a 'pro-NAFTA free trader,' Trump could sweep traditionally Democratic Rust Belt states … as well as Iowa and Missouri."
Matthew Tully, a Clinton advocate, wrote in the Indianapolis Star: "I hope I'm wrong but I think Trump is still being underestimated. His message of 'make America great again' is the clearest, most easily digestible of any we've seen in a long time."
Today, at the starting gate, a CBS/New York Times poll shows Trump has a favorability rating of 24 percent with his unfavorable at 57 percent while, Clinton is 31 percent favorable and 52 percent unfavorable. Come November, may the least worst candidate win.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.