In the UK, once a General Election is announced, parties do not tend to change their leaders between that point and polling day. They may do so in anticipation of doing badly at an election some time in the future - as the Tories did when they deposed Iain Duncan Cough - but once the timetable for the contest is known, that’s that. Some in the USA, however, are beginning to think the unthinkable.
Donald, where's yer hairspray?
There will be a Presidential Election in November. At the same time, the entire House of Representatives will be up for election, as will a third of Senate seats. A flaky Presidential candidate has the potential to cause mayhem in what are termed “Down-Ticket” contests, causing otherwise good men and women to be dumped by their electorates because the party’s Presidential pick has put the voters off.
That is the prospect now facing the Republican Party. Having been through a primary season even more bruising than usual, they have in Donald Trump a nominee that many on the right do not trust, do not think is a true Conservative, and most important of all do not want to be associated with, if only because The Donald gives every impression of being even more wacko than the screaming radio and TV hosts who back him.
The fear of down-ticket contagion is focusing minds excellently. Trump’s unwavering support is now restricted to the likes of Breitbart and, occasionally, Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse). There is enough of this backing to push back against the Muslim American Khizr Khan, whose son died while on active service in Iraq and who criticised Trump. The right-wing smear machine thinks Khan is a Muslim Brotherhood plant.
But this is a mere fringe diversion: most of the US media is relaying Trump’s succession of car crash moments as they happen, and the electorate is slowly realising that he is totally unfit to be let loose with the levers of power. Barack Obama has denounced him. Elsewhere, François Hollande has done likewise. Senior GOP figures are either joining in, or being asked to do so. And the horror show of the Trump campaign goes on.
As the i put it, “So far this week, Trump has insulted Muslim Americans, Muslim women, bereaved parents, war veterans, and arguably, anyone with intelligence … His latest row, however, is with a baby”. Yes, a baby started crying at an event yesterday. The Donald soon went from “Don’t worry about that baby. I love babies. Don’t worry about it. I love babies. I hear that baby crying, I like it. What a baby. What a beautiful baby” to “Actually I was only kidding you can get the baby out of here”.
Republicans are getting nervous. A “Republicans for Hillary” movement is taking hold. The reappearance on the punditry scene of Keith Olbermann has seen him ask if Trump could pass a sanity test, and conclude “Probably not”. Opinion polls are registering a yawning gap between declining Trump numbers and up-ticks for Hillary Clinton.
So now the right-wing in the USA has to answer the question posed so long ago by one of their lifelong supporters: do they feel lucky? With UKIP falling apart on this side of the North Atlantic, and Trump screwing over the GOP, it’s all excellent spectator sport.