It's easy to forget as we return to the campaign trail after pausing for Independence Day weekend, a sort of halftime at the big electoral dance, that Donald Trump's Make America Great Again message could have appealed to a broader spectrum of voters in a deeply divided electorate and might have been a winner. She Who Wears Pantsuits forgets that at her own peril.
But Trump's message was of course trampled by his lack of self control, never-ending fandango with the truth, obsession with conspiracy theories, and most especially by his pathetic boy-man lust for acceptance and power. And so the question is no longer whether Trump can win, but whether he will destroy the Republican Party as he goes down to defeat.
The short answer is "who cares?" The longer answer is merely a variation on that.
Political parties seem increasingly irrelevant to begin with, but the Republican Party is a special candidate for electoral oblivion. At the national level, the party has become a septic tank for special interests like Wall Street and the National Rifle Association and a magnet for Bible thumpers and angry white men -- and sometimes Bible thumping angry white men. The party has determinedly refused to learn the lessons from its crushing defeats in 2008 and 2012, notably as they apply to women who don't want politicians telling them how to live their lives and minorities who are tired of being treated as pariahs a heartbeat away from deportation or marginalization. And all the while the party has indulged in the magical thinking that has long pervaded the American conservative movement as its drift to the right and away from the mainstream has become a full-blown gallop.
The likelihood of Trump being denied the Republican nomination at the national convention in two weeks time is slim. A greater concern will be two of the party's most combustible constituencies -- hate groups and gun nuts -- being loosed in the streets of Cleveland with anti-Trump protesters.
Meanwhile, you can safely discard polls showing Trump and Clinton to be neck and neck because the likelihood of Trump being routed by Hillary Clinton in November has gone from most likely to most certainly, and that will become apparent during the slog to Labor Day. Numbers-crunching guru Nate Silver conservatively gives Clinton a 79 percent chance of cleaning The Donald's clock with him losing virtually every swing state and even a few reliably red ones, as well. But wait! If the U.S. allowed only white people to vote, Silver's numbers show that Trump might have a chance.
Most Republican bigs acknowledge that Trump is toast, a surprising number of them publicly even in convention-hosting Ohio and even with the second half still to be played, but what has them piddling on their tassel loafers is not that they created a Frankencandidate.
What has them so concerned is that because of Trump, there is a high probability that the party will lose the Senate, bleed a substantial number of House seats while keeping a slim majority, and be devastated at the gubernatorial and state legislature level, where the GOP has held a majority of seats since 2010. In fact, the party holds the largest number of seats at the federal and state level at any time since 1900 when President McKinley was basking in the afterglow of the Spanish-American War. If we're basking in the afterglow of anything these days, I've missed it.
This down ticket devastation-in-the-making is because Trump will have no coattails and Clinton's coattails will be especially long because of Barack Obama, whom a robust number of voters realize has been, on balance, a really good president in these afterglow-free times. Americans have been trending toward straight-ticket voting for years, and are unlikely to get all ticket-splity just because the Republican nominee is a knuckle-dragging equal opportunity offender so awful that he has compelled some Republicans struggling to keep their Senate seats to actually take out television ads against him.
The party brand already is so tarnished in California, with its honking 55 electoral votes, a fifth of the total needed to win it all, that Trump guarantees the party will fail to win a single statewide office.
To its belated credit, the news media -- mostly The New York Times and The Washington Post -- have been digging into Trump's past with a vengeance. We knew that it wouldn't be a pretty picture, but I'm left wondering whether Trump ever did anything that wasn't designed to enrich himself at the expense of others.
Beyond Trump University, there is the Trump-endorsed get-rich-quick real estate scheme run by two longtime grifters with lengthy criminal records who used a plagiarized syllabus, Trump's extensive use of the very foreign workers he would expel, his Made in China clothing line despite his promise to start an export war with Beijing, and my favorite of the moment: His reaching out to an Obama birther nutcase who believes, among other things, that soybeans cause homosexuality, in order to get evidence for the long-debunked notion that the president was not U.S. born.
No dummy he, Trump realized early on that his birther credentials would win him support, and didn't let up even after Obama released his long-form birth certificate.
I have friends who are terrified that Trump somehow will wrest victory from the jaws of defeat, and fear that the Brexit vote in the U.K. is a harbinger of an angry populist wave that will cross the ocean and drown Clinton even though she barely got wet from the two-year, gadzillion dollar Republican-led Benghazi lynch mob, let alone the FBI investigation of her sloppy email habits.
But Brexit has been much ado about not a whole lot. (Let's see. Politicians screwed up the EU? The Brits who led the exit charge lied about the consequences of thumbing their noses at Mother Europe? Sacré freaking bleu!) Besides which, pretty much everyone has already made up their minds about Trump. They're going to vote for him, vote against him, or move to Canada.
In any event, there is a two-word answer to Trump angst: Income taxes. As in once it becomes clear that he didn't pay any, the game will effectively be over.
Returning to the beginning, the Republican Party will survive The Donald despite the inevitable flurry of pre-mortems. For one thing, theirs is a marriage of convenience in which they are a good fit in a few respects and lousy in others, although the larger point is that the party would nominate a dancing bear in an Armani suit and Burberry brogues if it thought it had a winner.
Think of digging a hole in the sand at the beach when you were a kid. Think of Trump as the digger and the Republican Party as the beach. Nice hole, he says, as he makes it bigger and bigger, builds a nice castle with the leavings, climbs into the hole and gets sand all over his handheld device (no, not that one!) tweeting about how he has taken over the beach.
Then as happens when you take a long view of American politics, the tide rises and the surf come in, a few dribbles at first and then ever steadier as the castle is undermined and the hole fills in.
And before you can say November 8, there is no more castle, no more hole and no more Donald. But there still is a beach, just as there still will be a Republican Party.
POLITIX UPDATE IS WRITTEN BY SHAUN MULLEN, A VETERAN JOURNALIST AND BLOGGER FOR WHOM THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN IS HIS 12th SINCE 1968. CLICK HERE FOR AN INDEX OF PREVIOUS COLUMNS.© 2015-2016 SHAUN D. MULLEN.