Wednesday, March 02, 2016

What the Donald Trump Candidacy Is Really About

I seldom wade into politics here, but this is an unusual election cycle in the US, to say the least. The Republican front-runner is a businessman and pop culture figure who has never been elected to public office and is largely known for loudmouth bluster. His candidacy is based on vague promises to "make America great again," build a wall on the Mexican border and deport all illegal immigrants en masse, and "take out" ISIS leaders and their families — a war crime. His supporters seem to like him because he "tells it like it is" and because his wealth seemingly insulates him from corporate interests. The logic appears to be that since he's admittedly been on the giving side of political corruption, he is in no danger of being on the receiving side.

How did we get here?

Back in the olden days — say, last spring — the story about the Republican presidential race was that there were a ton of contenders. Donald Trump was merely one among many, and one that nobody took seriously. It was assumed by everyone that The Donald's over-the-top rhetoric would get him into trouble and torpedo his campaign. This remained the conventional wisdom even after he became the break-out front runner in the polls last June. The electorate would tire of him, they would get serious, and Trump's candidacy would follow in the footsteps of Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain.

Trump is a spoiler candidate embodying all the most horrible stereotypes of Republicans and conservatives.
But that didn't happen. Trump played the media, and the media lapped it up. It got good ratings. The news outlets were focusing on the horse race nearly a year before the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire Primary. Trump stole every election cycle by bigger bombast and more outrageousness. The focus on Trump as the front runner was a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the idea that he was the inevitable nominee gained currency. Surely, if he was beating all his Republican rivals, he was the best shot to beat Hillary Clinton in the fall.

Now we're just past Super Tuesday, and Trump is way out in front in the delegate count. Once again, the way the news is reported helps him: focusing on "wins" and "losses" obscures the fact that all states up to this point award delegates proportionally — so a "win" in a state does not award the winner with all of that state's delegates — and it obscures the fact that Trump has not won a majority in any state, and most nationwide polls put him at about 36% of Republican primary voters. That might bump up after Super Tuesday, but that's my point: the coverage is designed to make the leader in a contest look like the inevitable eventual winner.

But here's the problem: there is absolutely no way that Trump wins in the general election. Not against Hillary, not against Bernie. You can't alienate women, all minorities, and your own party, and expect to do well in the general election. One thing primary voters seldom understand is that the opposing party wants the most extreme, most outrageous candidate to run against. It makes them easy to beat. Democrats are positively salivating over running against Trump in November. Hillary's Super Tuesday victory speech is a general election speech aimed at Trump. "We don't need to make America great, we need to make America whole." "Instead of building walls, we’re going to break down barriers and build ladders of opportunity." Because of popular Republican support for Trump, Hillary can run against Trump whether Trump wins the GOP nomination or not.

Because there's a chance that he won't. Most GOP players are terrified of a Trump nomination, for exactly the same reason Democrats in the know would love it. Most also have a personal repugnance against his rhetoric and campaigning style. Plus, Trump is not reliably conservative on anything from abortion to health care. He's flip-flopped on almost every issue, and on his own party identification. So if Trump does not lock up the GOP nomination before the convention, it's very likely that the anti-Trump forces will prevail, and choose someone else.

Which means that Trump will most probably cry foul and run a third-party candidacy. Democrats would like that even better than a Trump GOP nomination. It would split the Republican party and make it even more easy for Hillary to win.

So the upshot of all this is that a Trump candidacy, aided and abetted by the media, virtually assures a Clinton victory in November, regardless of whether Trump is the nominee or not. Which ought to make us wonder if that was the point all along. Trump is a spoiler candidate embodying all the most horrible stereotypes of Republicans and conservatives. 

I hate conspiracy theories, but it makes one wonder whether Trump and Hillary cooked this up purposefully prior to his candidacy. Politico ran a story as early as last June documenting how Trump has long been "especially cozy — financially and personally — with Hillary Clinton." A Washington Post article argued that Bill Clinton encouraged Trump to run. There was never enough pro-Hillary sentiment to carry the day, so she had to have someone she could demonize to run against.

Let's say, however, that there was no direct collusion between Trump and the Clintons, or that, if Trump was being manipulated by the Clintons, he didn't recognize it. It's still the case that a largely liberal press would view a strong Democratic candidate and a weak or divided Republican party as a good thing. Moreover, Trump embodies what liberal journalists would expect in a candidate on the Right. It wouldn't be surprising if a number of high-profile journalists made a conscious decision to focus coverage on Trump and starve the rest of the candidates of exposure, because he's the kind of candidate they would like the eventual Democratic nominee to run against.

But let's say that that's even too conspiratorial. Maybe the media did what they did only to get ratings. The results would be the same. All the attention focused on Trump; everyone else stayed in the game and split the anti-Trump vote (because nobody got enough exposure to break out as a clear alternative); Trump became the front-runner and held it by default.

Regardless of which of the above scenarios actually occurred, the present state of affairs is undeniable. Trump actually is a spoiler candidate, intentionally or not. A large segment of the populace who would not be enthusiastic about voting for Clinton will gladly vote against Trump. Even the Bernie supporters who are rabidly against Hillary right now will come around if Trump looks like the alternative.

And the GOP primary voters have no one to blame but themselves. Conspiracy or not, they have been the ones who decided that when Trump argued for mass deportations and building a wall and sticking Mexico with the bill, that he was "telling it like it is." That when he disparaged women for their looks, it was acceptable. That when he waffled on abortion and government-run health care, it didn't matter. That when he insulted and bullied others, it was sufficiently presidential. That imposing a religious test on entrance into the country was a reasonable response to terrorism. That if he wasn't a small-government conservative, it didn't matter, because we needed a tough guy to knock some heads. That if he wouldn't renounce white supremacist support, that was somehow okay. That he was merely "telling the truth," and yet, when his rhetoric got too out of control, he didn't really mean it.

We have to accept and own it. A plurality of GOP voters, right now, want a hyper-nationalist xenophobic foul-mouthed politically-inexperienced insulting degrading big-government unprincipled authoritarian bully as the next President of the United States.

Evidently, there's some truth to some of those stereotypes about Republicans, as much as it hurts to admit it.

Ultimately, I believe God is in control, and He is the one who gives authority and takes it away. That does not necessarily bode well for Americans or for the United States as a nation. He may well choose to give us the government we deserve. God help us.