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A Republican Nightmare

Republicans around this state woke up this morning to a double-barreled nightmare. The biggest is national. Last night, Donald Trump stood on a stage in Cleveland and essentially threatened to run a third-party campaign if he doesn’t get the presidential nomination.

If he does that, whomever the Democrats nominate is almost certain to win. The first George Bush would have been reelected in 1992 if it wasn’t for Ross Perot splitting the Republican Party, just as Al Gore would have won eight years later without Ralph Nader.

A Trump candidacy could be far worse, so much so that you might well have the official Republican candidate finishing third.

But that isn’t all. For the first time, some are beginning to face the possibility that the Trump candidacy for the nomination might not collapse. For thirty years, first conservative Republicans, then the more virulent Tea Party strain have attacked conventional politicians, often in the nastiest terms.

Their establishment colleagues egged them on, as long as their main targets were the Clintons and President Obama. But what many didn’t see was that this weakened the entire fabric of American civic life.

Twenty-three years ago, journalist Carl Bernstein wrote about the cheapening and dumbing down of America in his seminal essay, The Idiot Culture. Ironically, to illustrate how bad things had gotten, he wrote: “And last month, Ivana Trump, perhaps the single greatest creation of the Idiot Culture, a tabloid artifact if ever there was one, appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair.”

That was a more genteel age, when Vanity Fair was still intellectually respectable. For the young, by the way, Ivana was a couple of Trump wives ago.

Today that artifact is the Donald himself, now the authentic front-running candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination. Incidentally, CNN took a poll matching Trump against the Democrats’ Bernie Sanders, who some see as a left-wing fringe candidate. Sanders led by more than twenty points. In fact, Sanders was dead even with Jeb Bush.

There are increasing signs, by the way, that the establishment also greatly underestimated the appeal of the plucky little tell-it-like it is senator from Vermont. But smart Republicans are waking up to the horror that if Trump is on the ballot next year, Democrats may be able to nominate a potato and a stone and win. In Michigan, there is another big headache.

For months, there have been rumors that the legislative Tea Party duo Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat were having an affair, though both profess to be devout Christians and are married to other people. Today, the Detroit News broke a huge story. According to the newspaper, the pair is not only romantically involved; they sought to cover it up with a bizarre email claiming Courser paid a man for sex behind a nightclub.

Now, I can tell you that there are plenty of Republicans in the leadership who would be ecstatic if these two bomb-throwers were gone tomorrow, even if they were replaced by Democrats. But this explosive mess will hurt the entire party.

State Republicans who have been claiming their party is morally superior better find a new argument, fast. Democrats may well have their own troubles before this is over. But for Michigan Republicans, today is a daytime, double-barreled nightmare.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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