The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty

If the GOP loses, the fallout will be worse than the defeats

Updated
By most measures, it’s too early for Democrats to feel great about the election and for Republicans to feel dread. The presidential race is starting to tighten; control of the Senate is still up for grabs; and while Dems are likely to narrow the GOP advantage in the House, few believe Nancy Pelosi will reclaim the Speaker’s gavel in January.

That said, as conditions stand, Democrats generally wouldn’t want to change places with their Republican counterparts. As Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said this week, in reference to Dems, “The math kind of just works for them.”

Barring 11th-hour surprises, the New York Times made a compelling case that the fallout of GOP defeats may very well hurt more than the losses themselves, as the party confronts “crucial and onerous decisions they are now beginning to confront.”
Do they try to find a way to cooperate with Democrats and get something done after years of stasis in Washington, perhaps as a way to move beyond the Trump phenomenon? Or do they dig in against Democrats and the new president as a bet on a Republican comeback in the 2018 midterm elections, adopting a noncooperative strategy to recapture the Senate majority and pad their numbers in the House?

Can [Paul] Ryan survive as speaker? Does Mr. Ryan even want to survive as speaker of a House where any negotiating room is likely to be severely constricted by pressure from his right? What about Merrick B. Garland or an alternative choice for the Supreme Court? Will Republicans finally make way for the court-shifting nominee of a Democratic president, or will Democrats resort to ending the filibuster to fill a court opening?
These are all good questions, for which there are no obvious answers, but these challenges will unfold against a broader challenge playing out in the background: Donald Trump, if he comes up short, will not be eager to accept responsibility for defeat.

On the contrary, he would expect party officials and GOP leaders to pay a price for his failure. Trump is laying the foundation for these arguments already.

The Republican nominee told Reuters this week, for example, “The people are very angry with the leadership of this party, because this is an election that we will win 100 percent if we had support from the top.” It’s a curious sentence – note the combination of future and conditional tenses – rooted in Trump’s obvious lack of confidence in the outcome.

A separate New York Times report added yesterday that many conservative Republicans aren’t just gearing up to fight Hillary Clinton in the event of her victory, they’re also “girding for an extended clash … with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill who rejected Donald J. Trump.”

The piece added, “Some of the loudest voices on the right seem poised to channel that anger into one of their favorite and most frequent pursuits: eating their own.”

Trump’s media allies appear quite likely to read from the same script – as evidenced by last week’s report from Breitbart News claiming that Paul Ryan is complicit in a plot to help elect Clinton because the far-right Republican shares a “globalist worldview” with the progressive Democrat.

To be sure, this isn’t entirely new. The more Trump has struggled in recent weeks and months, the more he’s lashed out at GOP leaders – as if they could stop him from making mistakes – whom he sees as insufficiently loyal, despite their endorsements.

But it’s only going to get worse if Dems win big in two weeks, pushing Republicans to face an uncertain future without effective leaders, a policy agenda, direction, or any semblance of cohesion.

And before the GOP’s critics chuckle at the party’s misfortune, note that the consequences will affect everyone. As the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent explained well yesterday, “[A]ll of this is terrible news for those who hope for a more functional opposition party that might be able to work with Hillary Clinton on matters such as immigration reform and fixing the problems with Obamacare.”

Unfortunately, if Republicans struggle on Election Day, a civil war of sorts will ensue – and governing will fall to the bottom of the party’s to-do list.