GOP Left to Study What Trump Does

Every once in a while, it pays to go back and read the notorious reality-based community comment again. Actually, today might be a good time to go back and read the whole October 17, 2004 New York Times Magazine article by Ron Suskind that made this quote famous.

The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

It’s widely accepted at this point that Karl Rove was the “aide” who said we’re an empire now and we don’t have to make any effort to discern reality. But it’s the second half of the quote that interests me this morning.

And that’s because it seems to fairly well describe how Donald Trump has seized control of the Republican Party.

Go back to the first Republican debates and remember how stunned Jeb Bush and the other participants were when Trump began violating all the norms that had built up in the television age around how to behave in a presidential debate.

Trump would say things that were outrageous, implausible, risible, ridiculous, facially false and easily debunked…but this didn’t really separate him from his competitors. The whole Republican Party has adopted a post-truth ethos.

What Trump did differently was to “act” and “create new realities” in the sense that people weren’t talking so much about the reality of what he had said but about the fact that he had said it at all. The news cycles didn’t even make much pretense about discussing the merits of what Trump was claiming. They “studied” what he did.

And then he “acted again” which “created other new realities” that the media could discuss.

Try as they might to get their message out to the voters, Trump’s competitors couldn’t get any oxygen.

And it’s a nice turnabout, really, because it’s analogous to how the emergent left-wing blogosphere felt about questioning the decision to invade Iraq in the 2002-2003 period. Instead of dealing with penis jokes, the antiwar left had to deal with color-coded terror charts and an endless parade of phony disrupted terror plots (which are still a problem, by the way).

You can pretty much say anything if you have near total control of what people are going to talk about. By the time anyone might get around to calling you on your b.s., the audience has moved on to discussing the latest threat or outrage.

So, the Republican establishment (and Karl Rove, in particular) has been hoist on their petard here by Trump’s success. Jeb Bush didn’t get taken down like a crippled wildebeest because his policies had no discernible relationship to reality. He was eaten by hyenas because his $32.5 million per delegate campaign was “low energy.”

It took a very long time for anyone in the Republican establishment to understand why someone was consistently drinking their milkshake.

When they finally figured it out, they told Rubio he could play the same game by accusing Trump of having small hands and no penis.

We’ll see what happens in Cleveland. Maybe Trump can be denied the nomination in some kind of replay of the Brooks Brothers riot on steroids. But I think they let Trump get too much of a head start.

Sound familiar?

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.