It’s gotten to the point that it appears almost like a nervous tic. Pundits and political scientists feel like it’s absolutely necessary to preface anything they have to say about Donald Trump with a caveat that “of course I know that Trump will never win the nomination.”
Here’s an example from Hans Noel over at Mischiefs of Faction:
Everyone knows the polls are wrong. We just don’t all agree on why. I don’t know anyone who thinks Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee for president, any more than Kang or Kodos were going to be. National parties don’t nominate cartoon characters for president. So what are we to make of his leading in early polls?
I have no intention of singling out or picking on Noel here. It seems like everyone is making the same disclaimer. And I think there are several motivations for it. One is simple sheepishness. People feel somewhat guilty to be writing about Trump because it lends him a credibility that they don’t think he deserves. They also don’t want to appear gullible or foolish. If they don’t rule out the possibility that Trump might win, their colleagues might think they’re drinking the hard stuff before lunch.
Additionally, I think most longtime political observers are personally offended by Trump and Trump’s success, which is why we see a lot of ad hominem attacks (e.g., he’s a “cartoon character”) that are not normally included in dispassionate political analyses.
But the most important parts of that excerpt above are not the prediction and the personal attack. The most important parts are “we don’t all agree on why” Trump is doing so well and “what are we to make of his leading in the early polls?”
Because I am not seeing too many people who have arrived at solid, confident answers to that question.
Now, I have been insisting that it’s a big mistake to look for the answer in Trump, but I need to backtrack on that just a little bit. Trump has some attributes that make it possible for him to be the messenger here. Not just anyone can demonize 11% of the population as “rapists,” call John McCain a fraud, and get a boost in the polls by calling members of his own party a bunch of stupid losers.
It’s a big asset for Trump that he can respond to attacks from Senator Lindsey Graham by giving out his cell phone number. It’s key for him that his competitors have coveted his money and his endorsement over the years. And it’s also crucial that he can point to his personal fortune to argue that he knows what he’s doing. A lot of people are willing to listen to him for no other reason than that he’s a billionaire.
So, no, Joe the Plumber couldn’t pull this off. It’s doubtful that a normal politician could pull it off.
Overall, however, people are not really responding to Trump as a guy they like personally. He’s a colossal narcissist and blowhard with manners that are horrible even by New York City standards. What they’re responding to is really two things. First, Trump’s primary message is about Latino immigration. People who don’t like Latinos are falling all over themselves to support Trump.
And, second, people have noticed that our political system is broken and that the Republican leaders, in particular, are the worst of the lot. The more you insult John McCain, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, the better you are likely to do. And it doesn’t really matter who you ask. Virtually everyone outside of the Beltway genuinely loathes these people and enjoys seeing them insulted. The other candidates are stuck on insulting Democrats, but there’s nothing original or exciting in a Republican candidate for office insulting Hillary Clinton.
Simply by championing white nativism and waging war on the Republican leadership, Trump has doubled his support even as the Beltway narrators clutch their pearls and act appalled.
And that gets to this idea that political parties do not nominate cartoon characters. I think that’s a tough sell after the Republican Party did just that seven years ago with Sarah Palin.
I think the experts are just reluctant to come to terms with the current state of the Republican Party. Without going into everything that is going wrong with the GOP, it’s a party that is coming apart at the seams. And it’s deeply unpopular with its own base. Just this week we saw the Senate Majority Leader called a liar by a colleague on the Senate floor and a tepid challenge to Speaker Boehner’s gavel by a North Carolina backbencher in the House of Representatives.
It’s against this backdrop that Trump is moving rapidly up the polls even as the party and the media move to marginalize him.
What needs to be understood, first and foremost, is that we’re nearing the logical conclusion of a sequence of decisions that the right has made over the last several decades to delegitimize our core institutions. In this I include most obviously the political chattering class, but also the federal government (the presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court), the Republican leadership, academia, and more recently even the scientific community. The result is that a huge swath of the right-leaning electorate can no longer be reached. The only messengers who still have credibility with these folks are the ones who are willing to call bullshit on the whole enchilada.
Keep a couple of important concepts in mind. First, the right hasn’t just been sold a bill of goods on things like voter fraud and Benghazi and Obamacare. They’ve also been promised a bunch of things that the Republican politicians either had no ability or no intention to fulfill. The Republican bigwigs don’t want to ban abortion. This isn’t Falangist Spain or Paraguay or Saudi Arabia. This isn’t Greece, either, and the GOP leaders have no desire to abolish the IRS. When the Republicans last had a man in the Oval Office, he vastly increased the power of the Department of Education and created a huge new prescription drug entitlement program for the elderly. This wasn’t some aberration. The Republicans who hold federal office aren’t nearly as opposed to federal power as they’d like their base of supporters to believe. They also have the ability to jettison their own bullshit when the bullshit hits the fan, which is why they pay our debts and why they gave the banks a huge bailout despite it contradicting their previously declared ideology. What we’re seeing now is a growing realization that nominating another Bush and expecting these promises to be kept is Einstein’s definition of insanity.
The second thing to keep in mind is that the right has been enduring a string of brutal defeats which have only been mitigated somewhat by their successes in the last two midterm elections. The Supreme Court just legalized gay marriage in all 50 states, which wasn’t what the right had in mind when they went to polls in droves in 2004 to pass anti-gay marriage initiatives and referendums. We just normalized relations with Cuba and are talking about making an historic agreement with Iran. The Confederate Flag just lost its last semblance of official respectability. The Affordable Care Act survived its last serious legal challenge and is here to stay.
And they’ve been badly discredited, too. Iraq didn’t go as planned. Gitmo didn’t go as planned. Torturing folks didn’t go as planned. Massive tax cuts and deregulation didn’t go as planned.
So, when you add all of this up, you have a movement that is completely lost at sea with terrible morale.
And their prospects are even dimmer as the younger generations do not share their values or mourn the America that we’re leaving behind. Demographic changes make it harder for conservatives to win each successive presidential election, which is another reason beyond pure race-hatred why the Latino issue touches such a nerve with these folks.
Now, finally, add in the changing economy and the shrinking middle class, which are stressing people out regardless of their ideology.
It shouldn’t be a shock to people that the right in this country is in a mood.
And right about now a “cartoon character” looks better than the real thing.
So, what’s driving Trump up in the polls is mostly not about Trump at all. I think a better way of asking this question is try to get at what is driving everyone else down.
Even without new campaign finance laws that make it impossible for the Republican Party leadership to control the nominating process, we’d still be seeing mayhem in their ranks. They’ve been led on and lied to, told to trust no one, taught to disrespect everything, and their reward is defeat and hopelessness.
Until you understand what a massive fraud has been perpetrated on the right by the right, you will not begin to understand Trump’s success.
Before he could begin to be plausible, they first had to prepare the ground so that Birtherism would strike these people as plausible. Donald Trump didn’t do that; he just exploited it once it was done.
And he’s still exploiting it.
So, when no one you know thinks that Trump will be the nominee, maybe they’re correct. But maybe they just haven’t thought this through because the consequences are too frightening and depressing to contemplate.
Do I think Trump will be the nominee?
No, not really.
But I don’t preface everything I have to say about him with some assurance that it will never happen.
The GOP is truly, finally, totally effed up. And it’s the biggest national disaster I’ve ever witnessed.
The only thing I’m confident about is that this will not end well.
[Cross-posted at Progress Pond]