Both Parties Trying Even Harder to Defeat Themselves

Three weeks ago, I wrote a column about how both parties seem determined to lose the next elections. Since then, the pace has accelerated.

The clamor is more visible — and more assiduously reported by mainstream media — among the Republicans.

George W. Bush and John McCain, who have been on or the son of someone on the presidential ticket in seven of the past 10 elections, gave speeches lamenting the political culture and, by inescapable inference, the style and substance of Donald Trump.

Vitriolic criticism of the president came from Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who had already announced he will not be running for re-election, and from Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., in a Senate chamber speech announcing he’d made the same decision.

Unsurprisingly, Trump tweeted his contempt for the two senators. Trump enthusiasts bragged that threats of opposition from former White House aide Steve Bannon had forced them out of running.

Corker might have faced serious primary opposition in a state whose primary Trump won with 39 percent of the vote (though Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio combined got 46 percent). Now Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who has sounded her support of Trump but is no rebel against the congressional leadership, seems to be the clear favorite.

In Arizona, Flake’s 2018 chances were already dim. His cheerful support of comprehensive immigration bills dismayed many Republican voters, while his solidly conservative record on other issues put off independents. He won by 3 percentage points in 2012, in a state Mitt Romney carried by 9, and he was far behind in primary pairings against conspiracy-curious state legislator Kelli Ward, who lost the 2016 primary to John McCain by just a 51-40 percent margin.

Other Republicans will run in Arizona, probably with better chances of winning than either Flake or Ward. But the Republicans’ internecine struggle, as well as Bannon’s mindless pledge to oppose all incumbent senators except Ted Cruz and demand candidates pledge to oust Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, will not put Republicans in winning posture nationally.

The parties’ impulse to self-defeat is apparent in Alabama’s December special Senate election to fill Jeff Sessions’ seat. Republicans nominated Roy Moore, twice ousted as state chief justice for disobeying federal court orders, and he is running far behind Trump’s 2016 numbers because he’s something of a nut. He “believes 9/11 was divine retribution for our sins,” National Review’s Jonah Goldberg writes, and is “an anti-Muslim bigot who can’t quite bring himself to rule out the death penalty for homosexuals.”

Bannon claims credit for his primary win over gubernatorial appointee Luther Strange, whom Trump endorsed. But Strange was damaged by the governor’s forced resignation and Trump’s rally speech on his behalf, which was dominated by his denunciation of NFL players.

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Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.