Now we all did what we could do.
Donald Trump, on stage at the first Republican convention for the ‘16 election, was considered a joke, something to make fun of regarding how bad the choices were for the conservative branch of American politics. Against all predictions, he ended up sweeping aside the other nominees while rushing headlong into the nomination. As he got closer and closer, more and more pundits predicted that groups such as #NeverTrump would prevail, saving all of us from the monstrous idea that is Trump.
But Republicans didn’t seem to want to be saved from Trump, and indeed to have been relishing his rise in the fight against Clinton that seems to be coming this fall. They pulled a collective Jack Move, and it seems to be working for them. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of conservatives who want nothing to do with Trumpism, including a few of OT’s writers and commenters.
But the Republican Party doesn’t seem to want those voters anymore; it may be happier without them. For they are the voters who brought out McCain and Romney, two candidates that the Democratic party and its friends in the media were in many ways designed to defeat. The candidates that the establishment wing was trotting out this year, Bush and Cruz, would have been destroyed in a similar vein. And when presented with a possible choice that obviously set off the nation’s elite, with cries of “How Could They!” and “He’s Vulgar!” – the right jumped at the chance, swarming en masse toward the billionaire with the funny/cheesy hat. Why? Why did they feel that they needed to do this? Well, let’s take a look.
Now, first, define Republicans. Are we including the 60% that voted against him? Are we including the 35% or so that support him only “with reservations”, the 15% who are only supporting him because he’s the nominee? The additional 15% that so far say they won’t support him? Or are we excluding them? Are we also excluding the last two Republican presidents as well? Are we excluding the last nominee? We can define deciding to vote for him only because he is the nominee as “relishing his rise” if we want, and can say that conservatives and Republicans love him by excluding the large chunk that doesn’t, but none of that removes the fact that he is the weakest nominee in terms of party support that we’ve ever seen. While those that still oppose him in the general election are the distinct minority, issues persist. He won, but mostly by wearing down the opposition. Now a win is a win, and he evidently has the support of the establishment and most of the party going into November, but past that we’ll have to see where things stand.
As things stand, Trump has not yet demonstrated any greater capacity to win than Romney or McCain to win yet. But we can set that aside, because electability isn’t entirely the point anyway. There are two dimensions at work here: Electoral prospects and national good.
Electorally, it remains my belief that Trump is not going to win. I fear what would happen if he did, but I’m not especially worried yet that it’s likely to happen. That will change if Trump can start regularly polling above 47% (depending on how close we are to election day). I just don’t think he’s going to be able to get the women votes he’s going to need. But I am and have been pretty firm in my belief that the greater threat of Trumpism isn’t that it’ll lose, but that it will eventually win. I’m not under any illusions that the party needs to appeal to me and mine in order to win. I’m worried about a party that takes the Republican coalition and doubles down on the white identity and wins.
The Republican voters are within their rights to embrace all sorts of ugliness. I am not obliged to be respectful of their decision to do so, however. Nor of muting my opposition to it. Right now this is about my party, but the closer they come to the presidency the more it becomes about the country. This isn’t really about trade policy. Nor is it even about the anti-immigration view. It’s about an embrace of European right-wing sensibilities, combined with ugly movements in our country’s history, more or less untethered by restraint and indifferent to bad acts, lead at the moment by someone whose entire worldview consists of himself and his own self-interest.
It might seem tempting to treat this as something that’s a respectable political choice like supporting Hillary, or Bernie, or Cruz… but it’s not. Saying “This is what they want!” does not make it better, it makes them worse. Are there some legitimate grievances in there? I suspect so – far worse revolutions and even bloody revolutions usually do – and I think the party and the country is going to need to look at all of that. But first, the fire needs to put out, and the poor electrical work that started the fire needs to be repaired.
At the moment, it seems that roughly 40% of the party is in the tank for him, another 35% or so have reservations about him and are willing to go alone, and another 15% or so will support the Republican Party nominee no matter what. Depending on how you parse it, this is an enthusiastic plurality or a placid majority. It’s hard to say where, precisely, Trump’s support is coming from. How much of it is the worldview he represents? How much of it is just liking the man? How much of it is hating the other team? How much of it is thoughtless support for their own team? Most people think they know, with their opinions corresponding with whatever they happened to think of the GOP 15 months ago, but it’s going to be pretty important to find out.
The worst possible answer: “They’re really – and intractibly – on board with this. All of it.”
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