Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

I’m generally very critical of Dana Milbank’s approach to covering politics, but he did an excellent job today. This is partly explained by the fact that Milbank has some unique history with Donald Trump that he can bring to bear to help us understand what The Donald is up to right now:

We can look back at what he did and said in 1999, when he was flirting with a run for the Reform Party presidential nomination and I accompanied him on a swing through Southern California.

I flew on his 727 with the winged “T” on the tail and the mirrored headboard on the bed, and I learned all about his prospective platform: progressive on social issues such as gays in the military, for campaign finance reform and universal health care, in favor of more regulation, opposed to investing Social Security money in the stock market. Most of all, he preached tolerance — contrasting himself with Pat Buchanan, his rival for the nomination, who had made statements considered anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant.

Buchanan at the time had been talking about a “railroad killer” and other criminals entering illegally from Mexico. He said other politicians were afraid that “if they speak out against illegal immigration and they speak out against the crimes that are being committed, suddenly they’ll be considered insensitive, or they say, ‘We might lose the Hispanic vote.’ ”

Trump back then issued a statement saying he hates intolerance because in New York, “a town with different races, religions and peoples, I have learned to work with my brother man.” I accompanied him as he underscored the point by touring the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

“He seems to be a racist,” Trump said of Buchanan.

Fast forward sixteen years and Donald Trump is making Pat Buchanan seem moderate on racial issues. Milbank explains this, correctly in my view, as a simple matter of Trump seeking the nomination of a different party this time around. He’s an opportunist who will say what he thinks will advance his interests, and if that means being a tolerant New Yorker or it means channeling George Wallace, he’ll do it in a second.

It seems to be working. A new Public Policy Polling poll of North Carolina shows Trump in the lead there, and there are enough other state and national polls showing Trump getting a recent bump that it’s safe to conclude that he’s helped his chances with the Republican electorate even as he’s becoming a national and corporate pariah.

Milbank concludes from this, with much justification, that the GOP has created a monster.

A spokesman from Public Policy Polling appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show this evening and explained that the Trump voters in North Carolina are disillusioned with the party leadership. They’re also a little stunned at the moment. Respondents said that they love the Confederate flag, hate gay marriage and despise Obamacare, and they received severe defeats on all three fronts over the last couple of weeks. They’re looking for someone who will stick up for them, and right now that person is Donald Trump.

Part of the problem is the party and their media wurlitzer keep priming them with bad information designed to instill one part fear and one part false optimism. We all remember Karl Rove on election night in 2012 in obvious disbelief that Romney lost badly. If their most savvy strategist was seduced by right-wing propaganda, what chance does some dude on his couch in western North Carolina have of predicting the future?

Fox News loves to hype stories about undocumented workers committing crimes, which leads people to falsely believe that crime is up and a serious problem, and that Mexicans are largely responsible for it. Texas Republicans are arranging things so that students won’t be taught that slavery was a primary or even significant contributing factor to the Civil War. And short of the tragedy in Benghazi, there has been nothing more overhyped than the supposed threat of Obamacare. Not only that, but conservatives have consistently given their base false hope that they could roll back the law.

So, naturally, your average “very conservative” North Carolina voter is looking around and wondering what the f*ck happened. Back in 2004, they supposedly vanquished gay marriage at the ballot box. Their trusted sources tell them that slavery and racism had nothing to do with the Confederacy, so what’s the problem with the flag? John Roberts was supposed to be one of them, so why has he saved Obamacare twice when he had a chance to kill it? For that matter, why isn’t Mitt Romney the president?

Most of all, however, there are the immigrants who are out there on a murderous rapacious rampage. And, when they are done murdering and raping, they will all get the right to vote. And they’ll vote to give themselves free stuff and for European-style socialism, and for gun confiscation and even more gay stuff. And ISIS and al-Qaeda and we’re-all-gonna-die!

As Milbank notes, Donald Trump didn’t make any of this stuff up. All he did was pick it up and shine it right back in the faces of the people who have been pumping this filth into the minds’ of the base.

The previously tolerant Trump may be a phony, but he’s no dope: He recognized that, in the fragmented Republican field, his name recognition would take him far if he merely voiced, in his bombastic style, the positions GOP voters craved. The mogul’s broader basket of issues is also in tune with those of a slate of candidates who have compared homosexuality to alcoholism (Perry), likened union protesters to the Islamic State (Walker) and proposed elections for Supreme Court justices (Cruz), and who virtually all oppose same-sex marriage and action on climate change.

It worked. Trump placed second in national polls by Fox News and CNN, virtually guaranteeing him a place in the first debate, on Aug. 6 — unless the GOP persuades Fox News, the host, to dump Trump.

That would be hard to justify. Trump may be a monster, but he’s the monster Republicans created.

So, what does the mirror show us?

Donald Trump is losing business relationships left and right as no one wants to be associated with him and thereby take a hit on their brand and revenues. At the very same time, Trump is surging with likely Republican primary voters. This is causing most of the other Republican candidates, many of the party’s rank-and-file politicians, and their party establishment and some donors to make an attempt to disassociate themselves from him.

Here we have Trump being so racist that he’s losing the chef that was supposed to make his new Washington DC hotel appealing, and yet the Republican base is saying that they want him in the Oval Office.

I’ve spent 10 years trying to convince you that this is exactly what the Republican Party has become. But I couldn’t get people to shun the GOP the way they are suddenly shunning Donald Trump and the Confederate Flag. Milbank is right. Trump didn’t invent any of this. He’s just exploiting it in a way that’s a little more obvious than the way that Rick Santorum and Lindsey Graham and Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz have been exploiting it.

If the GOP thinks they are better or even substantially different from Trump, they’re simply mistaken. He’s giving the people what they have been conditioned to want. It’s only possible because Republicans have made one evil decision after another after another, all in the service of the idea that fear, hatred, and stupidity, if sown widely enough, will give them the power that they seek.

[Cross-posted at Progress Pond]

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at