It would be hard to improve upon the National Review’s recent set of essays on why a nomination of Donald Trump by the Republican Party would be a very bad thing for the country. Two reasons stand out. The first is that it would be a concession of the general election to Hillary Clinton, who has pledged, in so many words and barks, to complete the transformation of this country into a centrally-planned socialist state – to put the cherry on top of the Obama cake. The second is that the country, if it found it easier to hold its nose and elect Mr. Trump than to hold its nose and elect Mrs. Clinton, would be empowering a man who has built a campaign on promising to restore America to greatness, but whose plans and policies for doing so remain largely a secret – forcing one to deep-search his past record for clues as to his likely future behavior. That record suggests that he is, at heart, a progressive Democrat with autocratic tendencies.
How has it come to this? Why, after so many outrageous statements, insults, pettiness, acts of self-love, and other mistakes that would have ended anyone else’s campaign, is this man still in the running, indeed holding the lead?
Rush Limbaugh, though not widely regarded as a penetrating analyst, has provided the answer: Trump makes people feel good. His supporters do not care about his views regarding economic growth, negative interest-rates, free markets, tax policy, free trade, foreign policy, national defense, China, Iran, executive orders, ObamaCare, abortion, gay marriage, gun control, environmental issues – in short, with the single exception of immigration policy, they do not give a hoot about the stuff people usually spend an election year arguing about. What they care about is that, despite all the bragging, pouting, and other forms of childish behavior, the essence of Mr. Trump’s appeal is his non-stop promises to make America as strong and respected as it used to be, to kick sand in the faces of our enemies – foreign and domestic. He makes his acolytes feel good. He gives them hope that he will make their lives better. He is a snake oil salesman, and he is leading a cult. The best precedent in American politics for the Trump campaign might be the campaigns of the “Kingfish,” Huey Long, who was elected governor of Louisiana in the 1920s on a populist platform (“every man a king”) that was no more substantive than what Mr. Trump is putting forward.
It would be futile for Mr. Trump’s opponents to try to debate the issues with him, because his followers do not care about the issues – and he is smart enough to recognize this and to generally stay away from the issues. Calling him a liar, a hypocrite, a closet Democrat, a bankrupt, an eminent domain-abuser, etc., is equally futile, as he has provided the proof that over 30% of Republican voters would probably vote for an ax murderer who makes them feel good. Short of a competitive alternative, 30% will be enough.
The only way to beat Mr. Trump is for the Republicans to settle on a single alternative candidate who can attract a big enough chunk of the other 70% to snatch the nomination away from Mr. Trump. Most of these guys need to step up and take one for the team, promptly, before they and their country go down in infamy.
Short of that act of statesmanship, nothing can be done. The Trumpies, the 30%, cannot be deprogrammed or given exit counseling. The Trump movement cannot be stopped by rhetoric, debate performances, “ground game,” marketing and media management, etc., no matter how much better than Trump’s. Only Rubio can stop him, and even he cannot do it unless Cruz withdraws (fat chance) or both Kasich and Carson withdraw. Practically speaking, time is short – is it already too late?
It may be too late. The problem, however, lies less with Mr. Trump than with a voting public which cannot differentiate a snake oil salesman from a closet Democrat presidential candidate. I fear that if it were not Trump, it would be some other totally goofy game show host. I’m not giving up but I am not hopeful.