Brent Budowsky: Harry Reid’s last laugh

Brent Budowsky: Harry Reid’s last laugh
© Cameron Lancaster

With Republicans on the cusp of nominating for president the favorite son of white supremacists, who admires Vladimir Putin and retweets with approval the wisdom of Benito Mussolini, Democrats are within reach of achieving sweeping victories at all levels of national politics.

With Senate Majority Leader Mitch -McConnell telling Senate Republicans it would be OK for them to attack Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders apologizes to Biden for supporter's op-ed Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Trump' if the US doesn't elect progressive Democrats: McConnell impeachment trial rules a 'cover up,' 'national disgrace' MORE if he becomes the GOP’s nominee and Trump threatening Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanWarren now also knocking Biden on Social Security Biden alleges Sanders campaign 'doctored video' to attack him on Social Security record Sanders campaign responds to Biden doctored video claims: Biden should 'stop trying to doctor' public record MORE (R-Wis.) during a Super Tuesday news conference in which he promised to unify the nation, Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidThe Trumpification of the federal courts Trump to rally evangelicals after critical Christianity Today editorial Left presses 2020 Democrats to retake the courts from Trump MORE (D-Nev.) is within reach of enjoying the last laugh of his legislative career and leading Democrats back to control of the Senate.

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Trump inspires widespread media malpractice — seemingly no matter what the business mogul says, it has no effect on his candidacy. In fact, what he says will have two game-changing effects if he wins the Republican nomination. 

The first is revealed by the CNN/ORC survey released on Super Tuesday, which is consistent with other polling, showing that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocratic debates are magnet for lobbyists NYT editorial board endorses Warren, Klobuchar for Democratic nomination for president Sanders v. Warren is just for insiders MORE would defeat Trump in a general election by a large margin and Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders apologizes to Biden for supporter's op-ed Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Trump' if the US doesn't elect progressive Former health insurance executive: Current system is bankrupting country MORE would defeat Trump by an even larger margin. 

The second effect is that a Trump nomination would cause an implosion of the Republican establishment and a conservative movement that would force every GOP candidate at every level to support or repudiate every controversial and crazy statement the celebrity billionaire makes and the media megaphones.

This “Trump effect” is already being exploited by Reid, one of the smartest political strategists and legislative tacticians in the modern Senate. He steered his party to successfully taking control of the upper chamber in 2006 and maintained Democratic control until 2014. He has worked assiduously to assemble a strong group of candidates for the 2016 elections, a cycle that already favors Democrats because of the large number of vulnerable Senate Republican incumbents seeking reelection.

If Trump is nominated, Clinton or Sanders and Democrats running for House and Senate seats will be gleefully running campaign ads against him that quote his Republican opponents for the nomination, GOP leaders in Congress and prominent conservative voices attacking him in vicious and strident terms.

Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will have a field day injecting repellent Trump statements into C-SPAN televised floor debates and using them aggressively to raise funds and win votes for their House and Senate candidates against vulnerable GOP opponents. Democratic challengers will wield like a whip every Trump statement in campaign ads, stump speeches and local debates and force their GOP opponents to defend or disown them.

This Trump effect will be devastating to Republicans at all levels and particularly devastating to GOP Senate candidates running in blue, purple and moderately conservative states. If Republican candidates defend Trump statements, they will lose substantial support from moderate, independent and swing voters. If they disown them, however, they will infuriate Trump supporters, many of whom are already hostile to the Washington establishment, including the -GOP-controlled Congress.

As Trump lives by the sword of media saturation, GOP candidates will politically die by that sword. The Trump effect will be magnified every time the media hypes Trump’s bigoted or repellent statements or interviews another self-described victim of his so-called university or various bankrupted companies, as well as every time it asks Republican candidates to comment on Trump statements or Democratic attacks against them.

Several generations of Republicans have sowed the seeds of the current GOP crack-up. They employed various forms of dog-whistle attacks against Democrats and liberals. In Trump, the GOP is now dominated and branded by a dog whistle that everyone can hear, and it is ugly to behold and dangerous to all Republicans in contested races.

Harry Reid is playing this GOP crack-up like Jascha Heifetz playing a Stradivarius at Carnegie Hall. He’s within reach of having the last laugh — courtesy of Trump — of Democrats regaining control of the Senate.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sens. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Contributors blog and reached at -brentbbi@webtv.net.