In The Sun Also Rises, Bill Gorton asks Mike Campbell how he went bankrupt. Mike replies, “Two ways. Gradually and then suddenly.” It is often quoted because it is generally true — not just in finance. Things tend to gradually worsen and then suddenly fall apart. Think of a bad marriage. But it can be anything. Martin Longman recently wrote, Gradual and Sudden Bankruptcy. It follows from a recent interview with Stuart Stevens, where the line was used to describe what many think of as Donald Trump inevitable collapse. But Longman sees it as indicative of the Republican Party as a whole.
His argument is that the GOP has been slipping for a couple of decades now. And it certainly looked like the election of Barack Obama was going to cause the sudden collapse to take place. But it didn’t. Instead, they doubled down and pushed forward with the same ideas. They even made the argument that it wasn’t deregulation that causes the crisis but the fact that there was still too much regulation. But maybe all that stuff that came before wasn’t the gradual part; maybe that was just conservatism. Maybe it was that doubling down that brought on the gradual part:
…that was the gradual part.
What we’re getting geared up for at the moment is the sudden part.
There are certainly reasons to believe this. They could put together a Trump-Carson ticket that would be a total joke and the party would go down in flames in the general election. Or there are countless other variations. It could cause the party to break up into the “populist” part that is based mostly on racism and the “libertarian” part that is based upon big business getting handouts. It could bring about a revolutionary realignment of the parties. But I’m not so sure.
What I fear is that the Republicans do get control of Washington in the next election. And I really don’t see where the Republicans go from here. If they actually get power, are they really going to do all the radical stuff that they seem to have primed themselves to do? The common wisdom on this is if they do it, they would destroy their party in the long term. But the history of politics over the last several decades seems to indicate that the Republicans wouldn’t pay that big a price for such a thing. Sure, maybe they would lose the next election — very possibly in a big way. But the party would live on and it would be impossible for the Democrats to turn back much of the damage that the Republicans had caused.
I want to believe that Longman is right. The modern Republican Party is an extremely dangerous institution. And it really has backed itself into a corner. It’s come out strongly against all kinds of things that Obama has done that it would have been in favor of if a Republicans had done them. Jonathan Chait has argued that the party will just go back to the George W Bush days of tax cuts and big deficits. But I’m not at all certain the party is still able to do that with the expectations that it has created in its base.
But the bigger issue is just that regardless what the Republican Party does, the country seems incapable of punishing it in a major way. Maybe it isn’t the Republican Party that falls apart gradually and then suddenly. Maybe it is America itself.