So Donald Trump won the Nevada caucuses last night and seems on ihs way to wins on Super Tuesday. I’ve made no bones about my feelings about Trump. Here’s Bill James, putting it succinctly:
Of all of the people who are running for President or have now dropped out of the race, Donald Trump is absolutely the last one that I would vote for. I could summarize the reasons for this in five bullet points:
(1) I believe that Trump is more interested in what is good for Donald Trump than in what is good for America, not that the same could not be said about many of the other candidates, but it seems to me that this has to be more of a concern in the case of a man who has spent 30 years plastering his name to everything he could put his name on
(2) I don’t think Trump’s background in business prepares him for the challenges of the Presidency
(3) I think Trump’s hard-ass approach to problems, in the Presidency, would be very dangerous for our nation, and might have terrible consequences for all of us
(4) I dislike self-promotion. I intensely dislike self-promotion. Donald Trump is the nation’s most notorious self-promoter—and was, before he decided to run for President.
(5) I don’t believe that Trump is sincere in 99% of what he says. I think almost everything he says is either an outright lie, or something he is merely saying because it is convenient for him at the moment
I’ve heard versions of that from a lot of Republicans. Hell, National Review ran an entire issue on the subject. And yet, Trump continues to win. Why is that?
Well, first, I think he is capitalizing on a general dissatisfaction with the party. A lot of people see the GOP as feckless and constantly caving into Democrats. Trump gives them a hope of a GOP that stands for something.
I understand this impulse. I’ve been frustrated with the GOP as well and left the party in 2004 (although that had less to do “fecklessness” and more with their very feckful decisions to turn to the Religious Right, support torture and spend like Democrats on a bender). But I think people massively underestimate what establishment conservatism has accomplished. Charles Cooke:
Not only have the vast majority of the stands that have been taken against Obama been futile from the outset (the president really isn’t going to sign a repeal of his major achievements, and the public really isn’t going to force him to do so at the point of a shutdown), but to focus on their failure is rather to miss the point, which is that the Right’s consistent willingness to block progressive change before it can be put into law has kept a parade of horribles from ever intruding upon the scene. Had the conservative movement not held the line since 2008, Americans would have seen the quick death of the Bush tax cuts; the introduction of a growth-stifling cap-and-trade regime on carbon dioxide emissions; sweeping gun control, including both an “assault weapons” ban and a federal firearms registry; the provision of a “public option” within Obamacare, if not a move toward full-blown single-payer; the false promise of “free” college; union “card check”; an unabashed de facto amnesty for illegal immigrants; wildly increased legal-immigration levels, with an emphasis on importing the unskilled; a host of religious-liberty violations, with no Religious Freedom Restoration Act to counteract them; and overall spending levels that would make today’s look modest.
Elsewhere — where no national veto is possible — things would have been dramatically different, too. At the state level, there would have been no marches toward right-to-work or liberalized concealed carry; no progress on school choice or eminent domain; no restrictions on late-term abortion or state-constitution amendments defining marriage; and none of the regulatory and fiscal reforms that are coaxing Americans out of the blue states and onto the red horizon. Despite voting unanimously against the bill, Republicans could not stop Obamacare. But they have managed to prevent Medicaid from being expanded universally, and they have mostly forced the federal government to own its messy system of insurance exchanges. That was no walk in the park. And in the courts? Well, without the two judges that George W. Bush appointed to the Supreme Court, we would have had no Heller, no McDonald, no Citizens United, no Harris, no McCullen, and no Hobby Lobby. Moreover, we would have read only two disgusted dissents in both Windsor and Obergefell, and, backed by a 7–2 cushion, the ruling justices might have been able to establish a more sweeping set of precedents than they did.
Cooke does admit that there are reasons to be unhappy with the GOP: the 2015 budget is a particular thorny point with me. But the “burn the whole thing down” crowd seem to miss what has been accomplished and what has been prevented by the GOP. How soon we have forgotten how bad things were when it was Obama and a Democratic Congress.
Another reason for Trump’s surge is a pushback against political correctness. Bill James again:
Also, Donald Trump is advocating real democracy in a way that the other candidates are not, and in a way that is too subtle for most of the Talking Head class to understand. We have in this great nation, blessed by God but not uniquely blessed by God, and not chosen by God to stand ahead of other nations. . . .we have a class of professional do-gooders who have made a lot of rules for the rest of us, and who have, with the knowing co-operation of the media, forced the rest of us to comply with their rules. These rules were never voted upon, and were never agreed to by most of us. Some of these rules are good and proper, and some of them are useless and counter-productive. I will explain a little better what rules I mean in just a moment, but first my main point.
Donald Trump is saying “screw you” to the professionally self-righteous, and he is saying “screw you” to those people who are trying to force him to obey these rules that the nation has never really agreed to, but has been forced to accept by leaders who lacked the courage to stand up to the professionally self-righteous.
It’s one thing to get people to stop hurling racial slurs or sexist remarks. But the media has turned us into a nation of thin-skinned lunatics. You can’t use the phrase “illegal immigrants” to describe … foreigners who are in this country in violation of the law. Students erupt in protest because a dorm supervisor treats them like adults who can deal with mild racism on their own. And God forbid we should act on the international stage without making sure France thinks its OK.
There is a backlash against this and people are eager for politician who disdains political correctness. The problem is 1) “saying it like it is” makes you feel good but can burn political bridges that you need; 2) the Trumpers are more than happy to get all offended when someone says something they don’t like; 3) people are mistaking Trump’s rudeness for a principled stance against political correctness rather than just Trump being an asshole.
The biggest factor in Trump’s rise, however, has been the divided GOP field. When we started out, there were 17 candidates, the largest field ever. Pundits praised the field’s depth, saying it reflected GOP strength. It didn’t. It represented weakness because with so many candidates, it was hard for any particular candidate to stand out.
Trump was able to stand out. He simply said outrageous things and let the media do his work for him. He would bash Mexicans, bash McCain, make sexist remarks … and the media would go into their politically correct outrage cycle. But the public didn’t care. The media were the boy who cried wolf. They had spent so long describing Republicans as racist for even mentioning illegal immigration than when a Republican said racist things, the public shrugged.
And so the cycle began — Trump says something crazy, the media have a frenzy, the attention brings him a surge in the polls. A huge amount of Trump’s rise is because of the perpetual media outrage machine that has surrounded him, giving him free publicity, making him stand out of the crowded GOP field. People who favored abortion restrictions or tax cuts or a strong defense had a variety of choices to pick from. Their vote was divided. But the anti-establishment, anti-PC crowd? They had their guy. And with every CNN fainting spell, every spittle-flecked 2000-word Vox article, every hand-wringing Slate pitch, he became more their guy.
They media has yet to cotton onto this. Every time Trump’s poll numbers stall, he says something vile. And every single God damn time, they take the God damn bait and give him hour after God damn hour of free publicity. They think, because they are so wise and erudite, that the American public shares their outrage. And some do. But there are many who are gleeful about it — who see the intelligentsia’s outrage as amusing and deserved. How many times have we hoped for a GOP candidate who would tell the media to pee up a rope?
And this is what has allowed him to surge. With 17 candidates, anyone who stood out for any reason was going to surge to the front of the pack. Not only would they build a base of support, the other candidates would divide what was left into a dozen pieces. Ask yourself, who has this primary season been about? Can you even name all the GOP candidates we started with? It’s been Trump and Not-Trump.
The GOP’s response has been too little too late. At first, they didn’t take him seriously. And then they avoided him. Non-Trump candidates spent the debates attacking each other. What we needed at the debates was, as
Jesse Walker Matt Welch put it, a Murder on the Orient Express situation where they all stabbed him instead of waiting for someone else to do it. They all needed to call him a liar, a charlatan and a liberal (and he is all three). But they didn’t want to do that. They were so concerned with being the consensus candidate when Trump fell that they didn’t actually bother to make sure Trump fell. Instead, they tore each other down.
Trump does have a ceiling. His negatives among the GOP are very high. Usually, a candidate who had won three of the first four primaries would be running away from the field by now. If you look at past elections, Bush, McCain and Romney all began to take off at this point. Romney was in the lead at the end of February and took off by April. McCain had exploded at the polls by this point, surging past the field to become the clear winner by Super Tuesday. Trump has not taken off like that. He may yet. But he hasn’t so far. I think that reflects a deep distrust of him.
Unfortunately, Trump’s advantages still remain. He still dominates the news cycle because our stupid media still hasn’t caught on to his game. And the field is still divided. Rubio is surging but unless Kasich and Cruz drop out (and most of their supporters go to Rubio), he’s not going to catch Trump. And neither has indicated that he will drop out. Trump is in an unprecedented position — he could win the nomination while never having more than about a third of the party behind him.
(Carson hasn’t dropped out, but he’s not really relevant to this. Carson’s supporters would probably either drop out or split relatively evenly between Rubio and Trump).
For many years, my Aussie wife has disparaged the primary system. She sees it as destructive because the candidates spend time bashing each other instead of concentrating on building the party behind a candidate, like they do in a parliamentary system. She has a point. But I think we’ve now seen another problem. For a long time, I’ve been saying the GOP wouldn’t nominate Trump because they don’t nominate crazy. They will flirt with crazy. They will fool around in the back of a car with crazy. But, in the end, they will go with a sensible candidate like Romney. But now we’re seeing that the primary system can cough up a crazy person given the right circumstances.
The way I see it, we’re looking at three possible scenarios, all of them bad for the GOP. I rank them by how likely I see them.
1. Trump Wins a Plurality but Not a Majority of Delegates. Brokered Convention. The rules of delegate assignment are rather opaque and difficult to project. Nevertheless, it looks like Trump could keep winning primaries but split the delegates enough to not get a majority. The result would be a brokered convention where the candidates try to form alliances to build a majority.
Trump could still win in that scenario, since he’d control the largest block of delegates. But even if he didn’t, it could be a disaster for the GOP. If Trump wins a plurality of the delegates but a Rubio-Cruz ticket takes the nomination, the Trumpers might tear the party apart. It might make 1968 look like a picnic. And Trump would cite it as justification to break his promise and run as an independent, splitting the vote and putting Clinton into the White House.
2. Trump Wins the Nomination Outright. This would be almost as bad. It would tie the GOP to Trump for a generation, shattering any progress they’ve made building the party toward minorities and women. It would also, as Dan McLaughlin pointed on Twitter last night, undo everything conservatives have been building for 40 years. The GOP would nominate a supporter of Obamcare and an advocate of trade war, an obnoxious big-government hypocrite who has, in the past, supported massive taxes, gun control, wealth confiscation and single-payer healthcare. In combination with a Clinton win — or even with a Trump win in the general, it would be the inverse of the Reagan Revolution, turning this country back to big government in a way none of us have seen since Carter was in the White House.
And it would very likely come with a Clinton win. As big as Trump’s negatives are among conservatives, they are even higher in the general public. In the Bill James essay, he argues that Trump could win the nomination but get slaughtered in the general because you can get 1/6th of the country to act like idiots and nominate Trump. But getting the half the country to do it is much harder. And while it’s true that there are lot of idiots out there, many vote Democrat.
(On a side note, I am certain that many of the conservative pundits currently attacking Trump will fall in line should he be the nominee. The fell in line behind RINOs McCain and Romney and, faced with another Clinton presidency, I’m sure they will fall in line this time. Allahpundit thinks so too. In fact, I’m already seeing pieces on conservative websites that are basically, “Well, actually …”. Almost all of the the pundits will support him if he’s the nominee.)
3. Rubio surges and takes the nomination. This is what I’m hoping for. Regardless of whether I support the GOP or not — and I could this year — I want each party to have the best nominee possible. I’ve always despised Democrats voting in Republican primaries to nominate the worst Republican or vice versa. Because you never know what’s going to happen. I’m sure there are a lot of Democrats who would love Trump to be the nominee because they think it would make it easier for Clinton to win. But even though they are right that Trump would be an easier opponent, they are thrice-damned fools. Because Hillary Clinton could have a stroke tomorrow. Or she could just … not win. And the next you know, Donald Trump is in the White House.
You always want the least bad option to be on the table, whether you’re Democrat, Republican or The Rent Is Too Damned High. And Marco Rubio is a lot better than the least bad option. I could actually vote for him.
But … I think a Rubio win is very unlikely at this point. We keep getting told that Rubio can win this. And we keep waiting for him to actually win anything. Cruz and Kasich draw off enough support that it will be hard for him to catch Trump. And it would be unprecedented for someone to win three of the first four primaries and not win the nomination.
Even if Rubio did surge, the path to the White House would still be fraught with peril. Trump has shown that he is a sore loser. He might cry foul and either wreck the convention or run as a third party candidate.
The more I turn this over, the more I think this ends with Hillary Clinton in the White House. And I hate the thought of Hillary Clinton in the White House. Not because she’s a woman but because she’s a petty spiteful woman who has shown very little skill in either foreign or domestic policy. She’s the author of our disastrous Libya intervention, supported the collapsing Obamacare and has proposed ever more spending. She would nominate Scalia’s replacement (assuming the GOP sticks to their guns with Obama) and likely replace two retiring liberal justices with two younger ones, cementing a liberal majority on the Court.
And … I have to wonder if maybe that’s the entire point of Trumps’ candidacy.