Donald Trump’s tailspin slump has stimulated unseemly speculation about the reactions of post-election incumbents, constituents, and contributors comprising that ill-assorted mixture of interest groups and ideological movements that styles itself the Republican party. Where will insurrectionary alt-right fanatics invest their mistrust after they lose the Presidency by a wide margin to the elites and their brain-washed victims who follow the false gods of Reality and Reason? Intransigent hatred of Hillary may produce pop-up insurrections, or bubbling instances of McVeigh style domestic terrorism in the aftermath of Trump’s rigging rhetoric. More optimistic pundits foresee a period of internecine strife, forcing incumbents in Congress to extend the governmental stalemate that has subverted the legitimacy of Congress as well as popular respect for our constitutional form of government during most of the Obama administration. Trumpism may simply command too large and too determined a following to permit the Republican party to move in any direction except further down the familiar and fatal path traced by authoritarian regimes elsewhere.
Time will tell whether the GOP can reform itself and recoup its losses. This post raises a sub-issue: suppose that the next Congress exposes a stand-off within the GOP Congressional caucus. Allowed to fester indefinitely, a broken caucus compels the leadership to prolong our legislative stalemate. Fearful of retaliation from the alt-right core if they collaborate with the enemy, Republican incumbents led by Ryan might converge with Democrats who see a crisis facing party politics as traditionally practiced. Party leaders could through parallel analysis perceive a common interest in understanding, codifying, and perhaps even regulating the nomination process. Impelled by shared fear and loathing of the forces behind Trump’s debacle of 2016, legislators might table their substantive disagreements and turn to procedural reform. For a start, they could investigate the organizational basis of Trump’s easy primary success and his even easier general defeat. They could couple this with investigation of the Clinton Foundation, as a loophole allowing an unseemly opening to foreign electoral influence.
The pretext of “under audit” will lose its bogus cogency after November 8 as an excuse for non-disclosure of Trump’s tax returns. Post-election, Trump will enjoy the equivocal status of a “private” public figure. His tax liability will remain publicly salient for the light it sheds on the question of Russian influence, and more broadly, the extent and sources of his wealth, his involvement with foreign hackers, and the nature of his access to free advertising in the form of news-commanding lies.
The failed 2012 post-election Republican autopsy taught both a parties an important lesson. Trump’s repudiation of traditional norms of transparency justifies hearings to discuss enacting a Revenue Code provision to require Presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to qualify for a place on the ballot (the Norway rule). Codification might be a bad or a good idea– the merits need to be debated in the context of concrete factual findings concerning the influence of money in the post-Buckley v. Valeo world of 2016, where cash and voice are legally synonymous.
Suppose Trump’s subpoenaed tax returns, together with intelligence data, show that far from being Putin’s stooge, Trump was his actual agent, because Trump has long been so over-leveraged that he is only an errand-boy for his creditors. Suppose his bad credit rating forced him to cede effective control of his business empire to secret Russian backers and other bankers of dirty money; and suppose even further, that Trump’s campaign turns out to have been an elaborate Russian espionage operation (conspiracy) to destroy the party of Lincoln and Nixon.
This thesis loosely accords with the pundit consensus that Putin exploited Trump’s egotism with the goal of getting a disastrous fool elected. As further proof of the Kremlin’s pro-Trump intervention, we are asked to believe that Russian hackers are behind Wiki-leaks revelations of the Machiavellian working of the Clinton campaign’s inner councils. Trump admires Putin’s deep game, and maybe further investigation will vindicate Donald, in a stopped-clock sense. Post-election hearings might show that both parties were attacked: the Democrats by the Podesta hack, and the Republicans by a Manchurian candidate. Nothing would suit Putin better than bipartisan failure of our basic political fabric in an endless round of squabbles and stalemate.