No prediction I’ve made over my years of writing this blog has been quite as monumentally wrong as this one – Republican activists would not allow Donald Trump to take the nomination. I have yet to encounter anyone in that field who even liked Trump, much less supported him. He was phenomenally unpopular among Republicans who actually understand and participate in the process. Yet when presented with opportunities to step out of line and halt his momentum, with few exceptions they folded their hands in compliance. Only a small fraction of the Republicans repulsed by Trump were willing to make any clear public move in opposition.
I should have known better. Social science research on this subject is clear and voluminous. We are hard-wired to comply with social norms and apparent authority figures.
In a new post at Forbes I describe this election as a live action rerun of the famous Milgram Experiments.
Would you be willing to torture a test subject for no reason beyond the request of an apparent authority figure? Would you be willing to hand power to a dangerous demagogue who has promised to persecute minority groups simply to maintain compliance with a party identity or tribal norm? Milgram’s work suggests we should expect only about two-thirds of Republicans to comply with partisan pressures and support an outrageously unqualified and dangerous nominee. Current polling suggests that Milgram’s results may have been too optimistic. An overwhelming majority of Republicans will press a button to unleash mayhem on racial minorities just as willingly as Milgram’s subjects turned a dial to electrocute a test subject.
Milgram’s research also suggests that the party will not be able to reform itself. Having purged dissenters and shrunk to a culturally and racially monolithic core, there is simply no force capable of resisting its present dynamics. The party will break and re-organize, or be replaced. How long this will take is anyone’s guess, but the process can be expected to spread instability all across our system.