My Memories of the 2016 Republican Primary

I watched most of the GOP primary debates this cycle as they happened or soon after. Because of that, and how recent it’s been, I don’t feel the need to analyze a whole debate from this contest either. We all know what happened and I think future generations will all be taught about this particular primary in school. I mean, this was by far the most fascinating as well as the most disastrous primary in the history of the United States. It was the ultimate comedy of errors on the part of the elites, a combination of good luck and charisma on the part of Trump, and the end rsult of fostering a base of anti-intellectual extremists over the last ~30 years. You could go as far back as Nixon and the Southern Strategy, to Reagan and the Moral Majority, to FOX News and Limbaugh-esque talk radio, to the TEA Party and unprecedented anti-Obama obstructionism. There were a string of dominoes in the formation of our modern, 6th Party System, right-wing base in America. All of which made a seemingly impossible outcome like Trump become a reality.

The point is, the Republicans over-saturated the field with 16 candidates. As a result, the loudest and most talked about person was able to win initial contests with a small plurality. There were too many other people for the opposition to unite against him in any meaningful way, and even at the end, Kasich, Rubio and Cruz refused to work together and coalesce their followers. The winner take all system designed to make it easier for a clear first-choice candidate to win early, actually backfired and guaranteed that even as the others dropped out, it was too late for Cruz or Rubio to catch up to Trump’s delegate count. The asinine pledge they had everyone agree to in the first debate, about supporting the eventual nominee (designed to discourage an independent run from Trump) backfired and exposed them all as two faced liars when Trump did win and many initially didn’t back him.

The Golden Boy, Rubio, the perfect GOP candidate on paper, choked big time in New Hampshire with little prodding from Christie and probably ruined his whole career as a Republican spokesman. Ted Cruz’s various schemes (collude with Kasich, pick a VP) kept blowing up in his own face and he’s probably lost his chances of ever being President. Jeb absolutely humiliated himself and made the Bush name into even more of a joke. Christie was a dead man walking from the start with bridge-gate, but by hitching himself to Trump he destroyed his public image and looked like a mindless, neutered lapdog. The only ones who even possibly came out of this spectacular fiasco looking good were Kasich and Paul, who were against Trump from the beginning and never caved in to kiss his ring, as Cruz eventually did. However, I do think Kasich deserves some blame in the whole mess by not dropping out earlier, when it was clear he could never win and was only splitting the “anyone but Trump” vote. [And Rand, who initially seemed like the lone voice of sanity, revealed himself to be a sociopath in the ensuing years while he sold out on libertarian values. I liked him once.]

Trump’s meteoric rise and fall has proven to be the craziest event in modern [all of?] US political history. It will be studied by historians, political scientists and journalists for all time. This primary will be taught as a point by point “what not to do” when organizing an electoral contest or trying to stop a dangerous candidate. It speaks to how completely Trump dominated the process that there’s not even much to say about the other candidates. Rand, even as a younger man, is no better at oration than his dad and didn’t hold on long enough to make an impact in the race or platform. Carson is the token black guy and was only on stage for the exposure so he could get a book deal or FOX news consultant gig. Fiorina is this cycle’s token “I ran a business (into the ground!)” candidate. Jeb and Rubio were the favorites among the old guard establishment and have proven that looks and charisma are more crucial than money when it comes to garnering support. Kasich proved that perception > reality as people still consider him a moderate even though he’s just a soft spoken extremist if you see his record. Cruz was the evangelical; he took up the LGBT-bashing standard more forcefully than the others, focusing on trans people and the unfounded “bathroom perverts” slander. Christie may have had a good chance in 2012 but here. he was too damaged, and I think his ultimate legacy will be the first weak-kneed lackey who bowed before Trump (and hilariously got nothing out of it in return). The other half-a-million candidates are completely irrelevant, then and now.

Perhaps at some point I will go back and watch a debate from this cycle, offering a point by point commentary in the vein of previous entries in this series. But I have no concrete plans to do so in the foreseeable future. I already get enough of Trump’s insanity on the news, I already know the candidates’ dynamics which removes the drive to learn as a motivation and even I have better things to do, coronavirus or no.

1 Comment

  1. Trump made this debate entertaining to watch. Your analysis of each of the candidates was helpful id seeing how Trump came to dominate. Maybe someday your analysis will be valuable to historians as a first person eye witness to this controversial election.

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