Last Tuesday, Donald Trump won the Nevada primary with 45% of the vote, doubling up on his nearest rivals. With a string of victories across the country, and poll numbers rising daily, it seems increasingly likely that the Donald will be the Republican nominee for the next president of the United States.
What makes this so amazing is that the Republican Party organization would rather have almost anyone in the world besides Trump as their nominee. How did a disciplined organization with several straight years of electoral success suddenly find itself unable to have any say in who their Presidential nominee should be?
This wasn't an overnight problem. It's a stunning example of normalization of deviance, the psychological concept where problems in an organization go unaddressed, become habits, and are ignored until they blow up in your face. If you don't follow the warning signs that the Republican Party ignored, you could find yourself in the same situation--at the mercy of forces that are completely out of control.
They Put Growth Over Everything
Get more seats in the legislature, get more governors elected, get more judges on the bench--the path to electoral power in a democracy is pretty straightforward. In 2010, the Republicans swept the House of Representatives and most state government races. They won 63 seats in the House of Representatives, the biggest swing since 1948.
It was a stunning success, but it was built on a foundation of voters who were willing to vote Republican, but mistrustful of the Party itself. These voters elected candidates who were running on the Party ticket, but not interested in following the party line.
Just as in business, in politics few people are willing to pass up rapid growth. The idea of gaining a historical number of seats was too tempting to ignore. Anyone who wanted to run as a Republican was fine, as long as they said enough of the right things. It worked--unless you dabbled in witchcraft, you could win in 2010 as a Republican.
Let's get back into power, the Party thinking went, and we'll be able to train all these newly elected politicians to follow the party line. To put it mildly, that wasn't the case. To keep their gains, the Republican Party had to follow the lead of the Tea Party, not the other way around, which led to a government shutdown they never wanted, and the resignation of their top leadership.
The Republican Party grew, but in order to maintain that growth they had to cede more and more power out of the organization. So it's no surprise then that they're being undermined by someone running as a Republican who's not interested in following the Party line.
They Didn't Allow Room for Tough Criticism
No organization can thrive in the long run unless it can take a hard look at the way its doing things. You need to allow people in the organization to give feedback and take it seriously, not ignore it or take it as an insult.
After President Obama's election in 2008 and reelection in 2012, there were chances for Republicans to reflect on what went wrong. Some people spoke up: their message needed to be more inclusive. It needed to be more about the economic pain of regular folks, not about cutting Social Security, repealing Obamacare, or shutting down the government.
People who tried to push the organization to change were ignored, or forced out. The Party decided their message was working, and there was no need to change it. Just say it louder, say it in different ways, and good things would happen.
Because it never changed, over time the Party's message became less and less relevant. So it's no surprise that Donald Trump is succeeding by basically ignoring the Party's conventional talking points, and crafting his own talking points around what people want to hear. The message hasn't worked in a while, but until Trump came along to prove it, there was no way for the organization to face this hard truth.
They Put Style Over Substance
Finally, the Republican Party got stuck in a loop of style over substance. They stopped trying to improve policy, and spent all their time opposing the other Party's policies. Instead of proposing their own healthcare plan, they just promised to get rid of Obamacare. Instead of acknowledging the problem of global warming, they decided to bring snowballs onto the floor of Congress to prove it was made up.
And then Donald Trump, branding genius, came along. Maybe the Republicans had success marketing their brand, but they have nothing on a man who can put his name on golf courses, casinos, and fragrances for men. The Republican Party could complain that Trump was just making it up as he went along, but it was hard to make that charge stick when he was just doing it much more effectively than they were.
Make America Great Again?
The Donald's path to the nomination isn't all clear yet, but it's looking harder and harder for anyone to mount a successful challenge. Even if he doesn't get the nomination, though, it's clear that the Republican Party has totally lost control of their nomination process, a problem that's going to take a long time to deal with.
If you let normalization of deviance take over your company in the same way, you could also find yourself in a situation where you no longer have control over your organization. And if you think it's going to be hard for Republicans to Make America Great Again with Trump running for president, you should try putting your own company back together.