Donald Trump’s Hail Mary Candidacy

If you’re desperate, he’s your man.

I have no desire to pick on kindergarten teachers, and that’s not what I intend to do here. But let’s look at the thought process below:

“I’ve never voted for anyone like him,” said Denise McLemore, 56, a Trump supporter and kindergarten teacher from Lexington, North Carolina. “He seems very arrogant and outspoken and he reminds me of my kindergarten students: whatever he thinks in his head, he says.”

Despite his shortcomings, McLemore said she wants to take a chance with Trump. “I don’t know if I can trust him, but I like that he’s different,” she said. “He’s made me a believer.”

The fact that Trump is “different” is doing all the work here. Nothing else recommends him. He’s arrogant and impetuous and immature and not necessarily trustworthy. If this guy walked into your store and asked for a job, you’d size him up and tell him that you’re not looking to fill the position at this time: “Don’t call me. I’ll call you.”

Imagine, though, that your business is struggling so badly with your current staff that bankruptcy looks imminent. You’re out of ideas for how to turn things around and you’re running out of time. Maybe this brash, foul-mouthed man-child can offer you something. If nothing else, he seems supremely self-confident. He says he can double your revenue in two months, and that seems wildly unlikely. Ludicrous even.

At a certain point, though, desperation can change your calculus. The status quo isn’t working and doing more of the same seems certain to fail. So, maybe you roll the dice.

Most likely, you’re going out of business either way, so why not go down swinging?

Or, as Jonah Goldberg puts it:

Nominating Donald Trump will wreck the Republican Party as we know it. Not nominating Trump will wreck the Republican Party as we know it. The sooner everyone recognizes this fact, the better.

Do you remember the old Catch-22? The only way to get out of doing bombing missions during World War Two was to get certified as insane. But bombing missions were so dangerous that not wanting to do them was proof of your sanity.

Nominating Donald Trump would be insane, but not wanting to nominate any of the alternatives is proof of your sanity.

And so you begin to get the weakest kind of rationalizations:

About accusations that Trump is “outspoken and harsh,” Joe Glass, who voted for Kasich in past week’s primary, said that Trump’s demeanor could match that of U.S. rivals on the global stage.

“Isn’t Putin the same way?” asked Glass. “He seems to be doing okay.”

If it comes to it, Mr. Glass will be supporting Trump over the Democratic nominee.

When getting shot is your only other option, drinking poison seems like a decent alternative.

Going back to that kindergarten teacher, it’s not all that difficult to see how Ms. McLemore convinced herself to opt for Trump, but it still seems like a stretch when she calls herself “a believer.”

What does she believe in?

The answer, I believe, is hidden in plain sight in Jonah Goldberg’s analysis, although he doesn’t see it.

Put simply, and with the incessant and obtuse comparisons of Trump to Reagan notwithstanding, you cannot have a party that’s both Reaganite and Trumpish.

Trump’s cheerleaders insist that he’s a symptom of long simmering maladies on the right. I’m persuaded (even though I think Dr. Trump’s remedies are nothing but snake oil). Even now too many GOP leaders think Trump’s success is purely a result of his brash personality, and nothing more. But only when we accept that a terrible diagnosis is real is it possible to think intelligently about our options.

To wit: This ends in tears no matter what. Get over it and pick a side.

The answer is that this isn’t a battle between Reaganism and Trumpism. Reagan didn’t communicate or govern like Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio or Chris Christie. The conservatives devalue all the things that made Reagan attractive and effective. So, the voters are not being offered a choice between Reagan and Trump. They’re being offered insincere promises and gridlock and inflexibility and paranoia (which is supposed to represent Reaganism) and a guy who compares unfavorably with your average kindergartner.

People are choosing Trump because he’s different. Different is better because the familiar is unacceptable and sure to lead to another defeat.

Donald Trump is winning because when you’re down by two touchdowns with thirty seconds to play, calling another run up the middle makes no sense, and your best choice is to say a Hail Mary.

Martin Longman

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