I have had strongly-held opinions about Donald Trump’s candidacy for the Republican nomination for president, at least one of which turned out quite wrong. My view was that he was not really a candidate and therefore did not need to be taken seriously because (1) he actually had no desire to be president, which would hugely cramp his lifestyle of conspicuous consumption, self-glorification and constant ego gratification, (2) he was campaigning largely as a way to satisfy his insatiable need for personal publicity and as a marketing tactic to build his “brand” which he could do unencumbered by any concerns about the political effect of whatever idiocy he might utter, and (3) as it became apparent that he had no rational policies or programs to support his outrageous claims, promises and bald-faced lies, he would quit the race as he began to lose primaries and caucuses, since “losing” is anathema to his ego-addled persona.
I still believe that actually being president was not, and still may not be, his intention. And the extent to which he has succeeded in tapping into the fear and loathing fringe of the Republican Party, not to mention more than a few Democrats, has made him, beyond I’d guess even his own wildest expectations, the daily headline of a media besotted by his school-yard insults and bullying, his fantasies passing for facts, his various phobias (xeno, gyno and myso for starters) and his incessant stream of fraudulent claims. His dominance of the news would certainly gratify (if not satisfy) his ego and add asset value to his name.
However, I have no reasonable way to justify my belief that by now, he would have lost enough primary contests, resulting in a petulant withdrawal denouncing all who opposed him and rationalizing his failure as further evidence of the stupidity of the Republican establishment. To say I was wrong hardly does justice to the reality. Having won a majority of state contests and rarely finishing worse than second in the others, he is clearly not quitting and may even garner enough delegates to be nominated, despite the belated, panicky, and clearly uncoordinated attempts to launch campaigns to prevent it.
So why was I so wrong in predicting the outcomes of the primary elections? I think there are four reasons, which I offer not as excuses but rather admitted failures to think it through.
First, while history clearly shows that unhappy, unrewarding, unfulfilled lives breed the anger upon which demagogues build their hate-mongering, I did not take into account that Trump’s opposition among the other candidates and the Republican leadership would be so incompetent, cowardly and craven for so long as to offer no effective counterpoint even to Trump’s most obvious and outrageous mendacity.
Nor did I really consider who among the other sixteen declared GOP candidates could offer a motivating alternative around whom opposition to Trump might coalesce. On reflection, they represent an almost unthinkable collection of totally unqualified candidates by reasons of political incoherence (Carson, Huckabee, Paul and Santorum), irrelevance (Gilmore, Graham and Pataki,), mindlessness (Jindal, Perry and Walker), mediocrity (Bush, Christie and Fiorina), and extremism (Cruz and Rubio). The one outlier from this group of nominee nightmares — Kasich — who at least relatively qualifies by experience and temperament, might have had a chance if he could talk individually to millions of people, since his lack of presentation skills in mass media is an insomniac’s dream.
And third, I mistakenly assumed that even with our TV media’s slavish dedication to vapid sensationalism led by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, they might dedicate some meaningful portion of their limited time between commercials to not only reporting whatever nonsense Trump spews but also giving some meaningful exposure to fact checking his litany of lies. It remains to organizations like Politifact to provide the little publicized perspective that Trump lies 92% of the time (60% of his statements they have checked are outright lies and 32% are somewhere between mostly lies and half-truths). And they are not even talking about statements such as advocating the assassination of women and children, the expulsion of millions of Hispanics, the denial of entry to America to an entire religion, the torture of captives, the repeal of the Affordable Healthcare Act to be replaced by “something you’re gonna love,” or “punching people in the mouth” who protest his candidacy, or “shooting someone on Fifth Avenue” to demonstrate his omnipotence, or guarantees about the size of his penis. Those aren’t lies (except maybe the last). They’re just lunacy.
And finally, I did not anticipate that Trump would drink his own Kool Aid and turn a cunning public relations stunt into a demagogic run for the presidency.
So where are we (at least those of us not looking into taking up residence in Canada)? Maybe we can take heart in one of my predictions that Trump would not exceed 35% support among Republicans. His current share of the actual vote is in fact only slightly above that, which given the GOP’s minority and declining rolls as a party, equates to at most 15% of the voting population. While he would obviously do better as a nominee, it is hardly a foundation for winning the White House, even against a campaigner as often dissembling and usually insipid as Hillary Clinton, but whose stature compared to Trump’s is nonetheless practically “Lincolnesque.”
If my re-analysis has some merit, Trump has a problem. Unless he makes even more absurd and/or untrue declarations like not knowing who David Duke is or having a faulty ear speaker when he said he was unfamiliar with white supremacist organizations (like the KKK), or punishing women who have abortions, he might win the nomination. And if he stops quaffing his Kool Aid long enough to realize it, he will find himself faced with the possibility or more likely probability of being beaten (maybe even humiliated) by a relatively unpopular and ineffective campaigner who, perhaps most demeaning to the Donald, is (gasp!) a woman. My guess is that regardless of what he really thinks, he will begin to demand personal endorsements and support from politicians at every level of the party, most of whom, having witnessed Chris Christie making a total fool of himself, will not be forthcoming. That, coupled with the attacks portraying him as the liar, bigot and fraud that he is, which will be launched by the Clinton campaign as well as those that have already begun from ad hoc Republican groups including newly formed and well funded super-PACS, will give Trump his excuse for failing to win either the nomination or the general election by attacking and renouncing the party.
He seems to be on that course now that his nomination appears less than assured, and if in fact he quits before or during the convention, it will ironically spare the GOP and the nation one demagogue while likely enabling the fanaticism of Ted Cruz.
Of course, having been less than prescient thus far, maybe I’m just whistling in the dark. Or if I’m even close, past the graveyard of the Republican Party if not our democracy.