L et's put this election in terms a New Yorker can understand — as a Broadway show. Trump: The Campaign started out in previews, off-off Broadway. (For the purposes of this metaphor, "previews" were the state-by-state primaries and caucuses.) The show absolutely killed it among these small crowds. Star-struck producers booked a big-name theater; critics predicted the next Hamilton.
Then came opening night (the Republican National Convention), under the brightest lights, with all the world watching. Initial reviewers were puzzled, offering variations on, "I've never seen anything quite like it!" In the weeks to follow, a cult following remained loyal to the show, but among the masses, the buzz turned to horror. Despite all those high hopes, the show bombed; audiences stayed away in droves.
Anyone can see the reaction to Trump: The Campaign in the polls. Donald Trump was tied with Hillary Clinton around the time of the conventions, but in the weeks since, his numbers have collapsed. As of Aug. 30, the New York Times had Trump's chances of winning in November, based on the latest national and state polls, at 12 percent. He could even lose Georgia.
Still, we're entering a dangerous time, when a losing candidate can be like a cornered animal. If he chooses, Trump could inflict even more damage. However these final days play out, soon it will be time to clean up this big, hot mess. There's a song — "Before the Deluge" by a young Jackson Browne, who imagined a Noah's flood saving the earth from environmental devastation — that would make a great closing number for Trump: The Campaign.
"And when the sand was gone and the time arrived / In the naked dawn only a few survived / And in attempts to understand a thing so simple and so huge / Believed that they were meant to live after the deluge."
Who will remain to carry on, unbesmirched by association with so cynical a candidate? For those few left after the deluge, the responsibility will be great.
The idea of a Noah's flood in politics is an actual thing — political science types call it a landslide election year. This is looking like it could be one — a big one.
Landslides sound scary, but in reality they've often been good for breaking logjams and bringing in fresh perspectives. Lyndon Johnson's 22-point landslide win over Barry Goldwater in 1964 firmed up civil rights legislation and brought all kinds of new energy into government (including one young Tom Foley from Spokane). There will be new leaders elected as Democrats this year, to be sure. And we could also see a new vanguard of Republican leaders put forward over the next couple of cycles. Whether they will be more of the same fringe types or candidates with wider appeal and more rational policy prescriptions remains to be seen.
In the meantime, people like Paul Ryan and John McCain may just be too discredited to continue in leadership, leaving the likes of Mitt Romney and John Kasich to take the reins. Such Republicans have learned a lot, perhaps most bitter among the lessons the fact that right-wing media was in the tank for Trump. Roger Ailes and Sean Hannity of Fox News have both been exposed for putting their thumbs on the scale. Where did that servitude to right-wing media get them, really? Fox and others forced more and more ridiculous, out-of-step policies on them that stymied progress and led their party directly to the brink of destruction.
Also consider that if Hillary Clinton wins, the era of right-wing media will have resulted in only one win in the popular vote for president out of the past seven elections. If Trump losing huuuge isn't enough to cause them to reconsider, a 1-6 record should.
And as those few survivors inspect what's left after the election, a roadmap to rebirth will emerge. Doubling down on what didn't work is not a wise choice, but many will want to go that route — maybe the GOP wasn't conservative enough to win, you can already hear some pundits saying. No, the Republicans need to take a hard look in the mirror, like an addict who has hit rock bottom, and resolve to make some significant changes in the way they conduct themselves.
The GOP has to rebuild, and if it can, there's a great big, independent-minded middle of America willing to listen.
The silver lining for progressives is that opposition may be washed away, too. Democrats could take over both houses of Congress, with the Senate more likely to topple. The break from the divisiveness could enable leaders to fix Obamacare, address climate change in meaningful ways, deal with income inequality and reform our broken immigration system, among so many pressing needs.
Still, as justified as it might seem to Democrats who have endured endless, unreasonable delays and petty, vindictive attacks, this is no time to punish the losers. This coming rough patch will require a kind of Marshall Plan for our political parties. Democrats need to invite Republicans — the safe and sane ones — to participate in national decisions. They need to give Republican leaders like Romney and Kasich the political space to reclaim what has been lost. And as the original Marshall Plan intended, all partisans must drop their party loyalties and pledge — as Americans — to never again descend into this kind of madness. ♦