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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Republican base hates the Republican establishment so much that it’s throwing the party’s presidential nomination to an unelectable blowhard.

And the party’s only viable alternative to the blowhard is an even more unelectable upstart who has managed to alienate every last one of his colleagues in the Senate.

It’s such a fascinating spectacle. The Republican Party is being mauled by a pack of wolves it bottle-fed as cubs.

The campaign has given a full airing to the party’s nativist strains — newly expressed in the tendency to see immigrants as likely criminals and terrorists — as well as to the moralizing humbug that turned off voters in the last two elections.

(Confidential to GOP strategists: You know those people who think women need their fertility monitored by state legislatures and who grow faint at the idea that a baker might be asked to ice a cake with a groom and a groom as the topper? They’re a minority.)

But the strange ascendancy of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz is a sign that the decadence and decline of the GOP is more advanced than anyone imagined.

Trump may appear to be the unfiltered reptilian brain of conservative populism, a role he plays to perfection, but he’s really just an opportunist, as Republicans will learn if they nominate him.

Cruz, meanwhile, plays the part of a conservative Moses, promising to lead Republicans out of the wilderness. But he’s really just a megachurch Machiavelli, a fact that’s obvious to all but the true believers.

Unless party insiders can pull off a spectacular trick at the convention, the GOP will be represented in November either by a bombastic and pretentious jerk or a smarmy and nasty one. Hillary Clinton, not a widely loved figure, probably couldn’t be happier.

But Democrats can’t afford to gloat or to rest on their laurels. Not yet. Especially because Clinton’s likely opponent in the general election will be Trump, a man whose media savvy has stymied all who have challenged him.

In fact, Clinton and her party need to listen to what Democratic voters are saying. It’s not just the GOP that’s being delivered a message.

Bernie Sanders is still making strong showings, and he looks likely to fight to the end. Hillary should be getting the message loud and clear. A significant number of Democrats are telling her she’s not their first choice. If she wants their votes in the general election, she’s going to have to work for them, and work hard.

People reach to extremes when nothing else appears to be working. For traditional Republican voters, the reply is Trump and Cruz. For Democrats and those more liberally inclined, the response is Sanders’ campaign.

What’s deceptive is that voters don’t always articulate the cause of their angst. But they might if they are asked, in a way that goes beyond the usual platitudes gleaned by traditional polling. And then party honchos — the Democrats, especially — need to take their concerns seriously.

We’re in the midst of a depressing decade. We suffered a foreclosure crisis, a major stock market meltdown, a series of expensive government bailouts of private enterprise, an underwhelming economic recovery and a prolonged crisis of obstruction in government. Technological change and innovation have not translated into prosperity for many. Our powerful and expensive military has not secured tranquility abroad. People feel like they are not keeping up. Not globally, and not on their own block.

The American dream has been yanked out of reach for many. Their chances in life have shifted with the introduction of free trade agreements, tax shifts, pension cuts, deregulation and globalization.

This election is about restoration, about the future of America. For some it’s about restoring a lost American golden age, of strength or piety or power. For others it’s about restoring the promise of American democracy to lift all and move us forward.

What is it for Hillary Clinton, besides restoring her and her husband to the White House?

Clinton might like to think that she is the adult in the room. That she will be the one who will survive the bloodletting unleashed by the GOP’s collapse.

But it will not be enough for her to be the least bad choice. Whatever the merits of his case — and, really, there are none — Donald Trump will persuade many that he can fix what ails our economy and our democracy.

It’s Clinton’s election to lose. And that’s exactly what she’ll do if she takes Trump or the voting public for granted and fails to articulate a compelling vision — her vision — of a restored America.

(Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via e-mail at msanchez@kcstar.com.)

(c) 2016, THE KANSAS CITY STAR. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC

Photo: Hillary Clinton answers a question from the audience during a Democratic Town Hall event in Detroit, Michigan

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