President Barack Obama spared almost no one in his last performance at this year’s White House correspondents’ dinner. He laughed along with the crowd as he skewered a host of celebrities and politicians.
But long after that lighthearted evening is forgotten, I believe the president and other progressives will continue to share bemused laughter at the expense of the Republican Party.
Let me explain. With the rise of the Tea Party, the GOP harnessed the anxiety and anger associated with the election of the country’s first black president to great effect. By 2014, Republicans had successfully ridden this wave of white rage to reclaim both chambers of Congress.
Now, with the object of their derision leaving office, the disaffected have turned their attention to the establishment, creating the space in which Donald Trump has successfully parlayed rank bigotry into front-runner status.
Losing the White House
After the Indiana primary, Trump is the apparent Republican standard bearer.
The likelihood that he’ll actually win the White House is slim at best. Several national polls have him losing to Hillary Clinton by at least 7 points and losing the popular vote. Trump’s chances are no better in the Electoral College, where he’s also likely to lose by a sizable margin.
Last year at this time, the Republicans seemed to have a chance to win the general election. With the rise of Trump, a handful of states that were either too close to call or leaning toward the GOP are now likely to go blue. Of course, part of that can be attributed to Trump insulting Latinos, some of whom reside in key states, including Arizona.
The real damage will take place in down-ballot contests, particularly in the Senate. Currently, the GOP enjoys a 54-46 seat advantage, with 24 seats they must defend this election cycle. The challenge for the GOP is that seven of them are in states Obama carried in 2012. All the Democrats need to do is gain five seats and they’re back in the majority.
This shift of power would have far-reaching consequences.
The Supreme Court
Let’s begin with the Supreme Court. With the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the next president has the ability to appoint as many as four new jurists.
The average age at which justices retire is 78. It’s worth noting that three of the surviving eight are at least 77 years old – Stephen Breyer is 77, Anthony M. Kennedy is 79, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83.
In the immediate future, just filling Scalia’s empty seat may have a bearing on important cases. Similar to the recent case concerning public unions, the current term includes cases involving abortion, contraception and immigration. All may result in 4-4 ties, a situation in which a precedent isn’t set.
In the absence of precedents, lower courts aren’t bound to observe the decision. This paves the way for the possibility that a full court - one with five or more progressive justices – will render precedent-setting decisions.
Beyond the court
Beyond the Supreme Court lie other dangers for the Republican Party.
By 2043, the United States will be a majority-minority country. But the political balance of power has already shifted. Barack Obama wouldn’t have won the White House in 2012 without the increasing number of minorities in the electorate.
It seems fitting that the GOP, which has done everything in its power to thwart Obama’s agenda at every turn, will now suffer as its chickens finally come home to roost. By courting the Tea Party’s support in Obama’s first term, the GOP recaptured the House, repeating the feat with the Senate in his second term.
Along the way, members of the GOP have questioned his legitimacy as president, sometimes blatantly disrespecting him. Now, the GOP is on the brink of imploding, based in no small part on the animus the party stoked toward him. Without Obama, there’s no Trump.
I’m sure the president has got to think this is amusing and fitting. After all, it was Jan Brewer, the Republican governor of Arizona, who wagged her finger in his face on the tarmac. It was Republican Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina who shouted “you lie” at the president during an address to a joint session of Congress. And it was none other than Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP standard-bearer, who was a leading birther during the president’s first term.
Most members of the GOP probably don’t think this a laughing matter. The future of their party is at stake. However, to borrow a line from the old Laurel and Hardy bit, they’ve only themselves to blame for the “fine mess” in which they find themselves.