I write this in a state of despairing despondency. Donald Trump, a political phenomenon I find utterly odious, has swept the latest of five primaries.
At this point, I do not think Trump can be stopped. I think there are now only two possible conclusions to this bizarre and depressing saga, barring Trump himself deciding to quit or somehow being incapacitated, both of which are extremely unlikely: either Trump wins the GOP nomination outright, or someone else secures the GOP nomination from a brokered convention. If the latter, however, I doubt that person, whoever he or she may be, would have any credibility among the majority of the Republican electorate, even if that nominee were a reincarnated Ronald Reagan bearing the endorsement of Jesus Christ himself.
Come November, after what will be an exhausting, shrill, horrifying, thoroughly unserious, substance-less election between Trump and Hillary Clinton, an election as non-cerebral as an argument over juice boxes waged by four year olds, I think Trump may very well win the White House.
This is not a sentence I write lightly, and I sincerely hope that in nine months I can look back at this blog post and say “What in the hell was I thinking?”, but everyone has so far failed to understand Donald Trump and has underestimated the force behind his political rise. I think it is entirely possible he can win the White House. When one looks at his likely opponent, I think it likely. Clinton is still the odds on favorite, but I do not think she is as strong a candidate as is frequently supposed. If she wins, it may well be a near run thing. Or perhaps she will win in a landslide.
I still cannot entirely fathom what has passed through the mind of the average voter in backing Trump, nor can I even begin to comprehend why anyone might find Trump appealing beyond his status as a giant middle finger to “the establishment”. Some combination of economic illiteracy, old fashioned nationalism, the latent appeal of authoritarianism, and simply having one’s own ideas being given a voice on the national stage after years and years of being not just ignored but also demonized are, I suspect, the main factors. I wish I could understand Trump’s appeal to ‘the common man’ though, because it is an appeal that will, I think, carry Trump to the Oval Office.
God help us all. And God save the Republic. But Goddamn the average voter.
“I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor in due time…These are responsibilities that I take seriously, as should everyone. They’re bigger than any one party. They are about our democracy.”–Barack Obama
Democracy is an odd thing to cite considering that he is talking about appointing an unelected justice to an unelected court for a lifetime tenure and in so doing depriving the American people the chance to hold a quasi-referendum on who should replace Scalia.
Of course, if Obama is really so concerned with exercising his “constitutional responsibilities” and so torn-up about the possibility of a year long 8-justice SCOTUS, he could just nominate a dyed in the wool conservative who would actually restrain government. That guy (or gal) would be confirmed in a jiffy. If Obama doesn’t do this, then it’s not just the Republicans who are to “blame”. Rest assured, there is plenty of blame on all sides.
Predicting the future is a perilous business full of errors hilarious and tragic. Even this blog has not been immune from prognostications that prove to be erroneous in hindsight.
Nevertheless, I will hazard a guess about the coming election year. The prediction is this: Trump is a serious threat. I know it’s a bit of a cop-out, but the fact is that while it’s easy to see that Trump is indeed a threat, what is not so easy to see how the many factions he threatens will react to Trump. I predict that because Trump appears to be such a dire threat and threatens so many, his candidacy will lead to the greatest upheaval in American electoral politics since the election of FDR to the White House.
In short, I see three distinct possibilities. One is that Trump secures the Republican nomination. The other is that Trump does not secure the nomination but then runs as a 3rd Party Candidate. The final possibility is that Trump loses the first few Republican primary contests and then quickly fades away to political ignominy, leaving us all wondering what the hell was happening for those 6+ months of Trump-Mania. If the latter happens, then I will of course have been proven wrong in my prediction for this coming election season–but I will be so happy about Trump’s demise that I won’t mind being wrong so much. If the former two events transpire, then all bets are off and we could see a fundamental transformation of the American electorate.
I’m not sure Trump will get the Republican nomination in the end. It very well may end up he loses Iowa and New Hampshire, never regains momentum and disappears to ignominy (if not obscurity) and we will look back on that 9 month-odd long period of Trump-mania as a period of mass hysteria as inexplicable as the Salem Witch Trials. Indeed, that is in a sense the best of the most likely scenarios I can foresee, since the actual best case scenario (as I outline below) is incredibly unlikely.
However, there is now a very real possibility that Trump can secure the nomination. It remains unlikely, I think, but if he manages to win even a single primary his chances improve tremendously
The prospect of a Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders presidency is very troubling indeed, as is the prospect of a Trump presidency. They would each be horrible in their own ways, but which would be worse is difficult to fathom. It’s a bit like asking who you would prefer be president: Stalin or Mao? Clinton and Trump are obvious Caesars in the making; even Sanders has a certain crypto-Caesarism about him, though bizarrely the self-declared socialist is the least threatening of the three. I mean, I can easily see Trump going complete Tin-Pot dictator and declaring himself (in a lavish, gold-plated ceremony no doubt) President For Life. I am also able to envision the amoral and power hungry Hillary Clinton using the massively expanded power of the executive–through even more sinister, underhanded means and probably with more nefarious ends in mind–to substantially subvert the Constitution, if not entirely.
So here’s my real prediction, though I will freely admit this is a very, very long shot, and more wishful thinking than a prediction. My prediction is that if Trump secures the GOP nomination, he will have the substantial backing of about 40% (perhaps even half) of the Republican electorate but the other half will despise Trump. In short, the long overdue split of the Republican party will commence. If he does not secure the nomination–especially if it is widely perceived he was “cheated” out of the nomination–there is a damn good chance he will run 3rd Party. Then, as it becomes clear that Trump has the general election in the bag and can easily defeat Hillary Clinton, a coalition will form around Rand Paul as the alternative candidate–potentially propelling him to the Oval Office.
As Rand has trumpeted from the hilltops to anyone who will listen, he has more cross-party appeal than any other Republican–which is not just a candidate’s spin, it is actual fact. While many Democrats probably wouldn’t like his stance on guns* or economic issues, Rand’s moderate stance on gay marriage and abortion (federalism, in a word) and his great strengths in matters of civil liberties, criminal justice reform, the war on drugs, wars overseas, and other libertarian(ish) stances will make him palatable enough to enough Democrats that they will vote for him as a means of defeating Trump.
There are a few independent variables in the matter. The lesser concern is the Democrats. Will they abandon Hillary Clinton if it becomes clear that she will lose to Trump? Hopefully Democratic voters will be pragmatic and they will rally around the better (in every sense of the word) candidate, Rand Paul.
It is possible that Hillary Clinton will not be running by the time the general election, either because she was forced to drop out or dropped out of her own volition. Perhaps Clinton will have been indicted, but I am very skeptical that will come to pass due to the teflon coated nature of the ruling class in general and the Clintons in particular. More likely (only slightly) is that her candidacy will have died the death of a thousand cuts and gradually–between her emails and other scandals, her general dishonesty, her general lack of appeal and campaigning skills, and the greater sincerity of Bernie Sanders–her campaign will lose steam and supporters. Even if she remains in the race, it is still entirely possible that her supporters will desert her or not turn up on election day and it will be clear that the fight for the nomination damaged her candidacy beyond repair–leading to a flight of Democrats to the Rand coalition.
The other variable in the election is Sanders. Most likely is that Hillary Clinton vanquishes that dragon before she herself is vanquished. The prospect of Sanders surviving late enough to see Trump secure the nomination or run 3rd Party and precipitate the break-up of the Republican Party cannot be ignored, however. If that happens, it will be impossible to predict how Sanders will react. He might go for broke and go all out for the Democratic Nomination–arguing (not un-persuasively) that the only suitable Democratic response to something so radical as a Trump candidacy will be something equally radical: himself. He might also magnanimously accept an offer to be Hillary’s VP, though if the campaign arms race of nastiness continues to escalate, before too long Sanders may hate Hillary Clinton more than he does the Republicans…which brings me to the most exciting possibility for Sanders: he becomes Rand’s VP on the Alternative Ticket.
Such a move, I think, would be as brilliant as it is logical. It would be, in effect, the same as the British Conservative Party going into coalition with the Liberal Democrats: while they might not see eye to eye on every issue, they both agree that Labour (Trump) must be defeated at all hazards. Rand already appeals to many Democrats; with Bernie as his VP, it would persuade many Democrats not just to like Rand but to actually vote for him. Certainly it would be a ticket with more sincerity and anti-establishment bona fides than anything else liable to be fielded–with the exception of Trump’s ticket (at least in terms of anti-Establishment bona fides). Rand however may also choose fellow Republican Ted Cruz as a means of securing to him as much of the former Republican electorate as he can.
The other independent variable (and the greater problem) is that while half of the Republican Party (the authoritarian half) will be united (around Trump), the other half will be divided–among Hawks and Doves, Establishment vs Grassroots, secular vs evangelical. The Rand Anti-Trump Coalition may be able to gain only a fraction of this second half, depending on how the remaining Republicans react.
It is entirely possible that–if and when the Republican Party fragments–the Establishment will not sign on to the Anti-Trump coalition of Rand and Bernie but will instead field their own candidate. This is especially likely if they finagle Trump out of the nomination and anoint their favorite as the nomination via chicanery, gross or minor. Marco Rubio is most likely to get the nod as the “official” Republican candidate, if they (the Republican Old Guard) abandon their heretofore favorite son, Jeb Bush (and given Jeb’s lackluster campaign, best described as a series of implosions and mis-steps at tremendous expense, this does seem likely, though he may yet be tipped as the VP). Chris Christie may yet also gain the patronage of the Establishment in this scenario of Republican Party fragmentation–dependent on his performance in the primaries.
I think a Rand-Bernie (or even a Rand-Cruz) coalition would be a very powerful force, one sufficiently strong to defeat Trump–especially if Rand’s recently regained momentum holds or even builds, as it well may. However, for this coalition to form, an extraordinary series of events entirely unprecedented in American politics will have to occur–nothing short of the near total disintegration of the two-party system will suffice.
A split in the Republicans has long been overdue. Since the end of the Cold War, really, the coalition of “fusionism” has been crumbling and should have been dissolved outright in 1992 (when Perot cost Bush the First his re-election bid). The libertarian element within the GOP was consistently ignored in favor of the war mongers, the Big Business cronies, and the moral crusaders (the Christian Evangelicals, who, if Mike Huckabee is anything to go by, are the antithesis of libertarian). This made the GOP ripe for a libertarian insurrection (as evidenced by Ron Paul in 2008 and ’12). The latest Republican debate, with at least 6 pro-war, anti-civil liberties candidates on the stage and the conspicuous absence of Rand Paul, is proof that the Republican Party is now nothing more than a party of authoritarians; the primary is merely a contest between the Insider Authoritarians (Rubio, Christie) and the outsider authoritarians (Trump, and possibly also Cruz, since he is an outsider who regularly changes his position on the authoritarian-libertarian scale).
Libertarians should leave the Republican Party entirely–as should anyone who is not a crony capitalist and a Hawk. Certainly, the people who have rallied to Trump’s colors are prepared to leave the GOP; after so many years of being betrayed by the Republicans in power, there is a good reason why so many Republicans are so enthusiastic about the “outsider” Donald Trump.
Sadly, however, all this is barely more than a pipe dream. In all likelihood Rand will do very badly in the coming Iowa Caucus and will be forced to drop out before even getting a chance to perform well in the New Hampshire Primary. Even if he survives to New Hampshire, odds are that Iowa will be his last hurrah. Once Rand is gone, the chances of him coming back onto the American Presidential Stage are about as slim as Barry Goldwater’s chance of doing the same. With Rand gone, the US presidential contest is a very dismal scene indeed. It features nothing but corporatists and war-mongers, authoritarians and moralizing preachers, most of whom are corrupt and dishonest. Indeed, the field is so dismal, it says a lot that the last best hope (in the two major political parties at least) for liberty-minded voters is the socialist, Bernie Sanders.
*Though, since Hillary Clinton’s attacks on Bernie Sanders’ position on guns have failed to do any significant damage, perhaps the Democratic electorate is more gun-tolerant than previously thought.
First of all, if you can’t guess, I am very much anti-Trump. While I was for a time willing to tolerate his presence on the political stage and thought that it might even be healthy for our otherwise stale politics, the desired good effects I hoped to see have thus far failed to come to fruition while the many myriad reasons to oppose Trump have continued to mount.
In short, it’s taken me and the thoughtful Conservatives and libertarians in America this long to figure out that simply being anti-establishment does not make one pro-liberty, let alone is it the only quality one needs to be a good president.
Trump is not a conservative, let alone a libertarian. He is a con-man perpetrating fraud on Americans, taking advantage of the disillusionment felt by many Republican voters in a bid for unbridled power. We have no idea what he actually believes, but we do know that for most of his life he was a prolific 1%-er who was not at all afraid (let alone ashamed) to bend political power to his advantage, often (but not always) crushing those smaller, less powerful than he. It is quite possible then that Trump–having been elected as an “outsider” who would up-end everything in politics and, like Jesus clearing the Temple of the moneychangers, toss out the established order–instead would do a swift about-face and become the most corrupt insider, cronyist president we have ever had.
Trump is a danger to our democratic government, a threat to the Republic, and may well be the Caesar that will abrogate what little constraints there are left on the office of the Presidency after 16 years of Bush and Obama.
Trump must be stopped. I am sure the vast majority of Democrats and other leftists in the US would agree with that assessment, as do an ever mounting number of Republicans, conservatives and libertarians, as seen in this epic cover of the National Review’s latest issue, the flagship publication for thoughtful American conservatism.
However, this is a bit like the Syrian Civil War and ISIS. While everyone hates ISIS and agrees they must be done away with, no one can agree on how that is to be done, by whom, and whenever someone in the anti-ISIS crowd tries to do something against ISIS they are stopped by the other anti-ISIS club members because the action would disadvantage them as much as it would ISIS. So it is with Trump. While the Establishment, the thoughtful conservatives, many Republican voters, and the liberty voters are all against Trump, we are not united against Trump and are often as mistrustful of each other as we are of Trump.
The reason Trump is such a menace but a menace impossible to unite against is because Trump is an authoritarian, and the authoritarian impulses he has aroused are unlikely to die down anytime soon. An alarming article in Politico points out that the real reason for Trump’s heretofore mystifying and incredible appeal is because he is an authoritarian and that many Americans have authoritarian views–views which have been aroused and whipped up to a frenzy by Trump and which are unlikely to die down anytime soon.
The author of the Politico article conducted a survey (a decently scientific survey by the sounds of it) and very nearly half (49%) of Republicans surveyed by the author have strong authoritarian leanings, and a significant plurality among independents (39%) do as well. Even among the Democrats there are sufficient authoritarians (17% as discovered in the author’s polling–though I suspect there are more than that, but they are left-authoritarians rather than right-authoritarians) that if Trump does secure the nomination or runs third party, he could rally enough support among Democrats, Republicans, and independents to win the election hands-down–even running as a third party candidate*.
This is very troubling. As the article points out, authoritarians are going to respond very strongly to Trump’s strongman rhetoric. They are alarmed and threatened by the spectres of terrorism in San Bernadino or Paris, illegal immigration, globalization and free trade–the series of imaginary hobgoblins spoken of by HL Mencken which are used to keep the electorate afraid and clamoring to be led to safety. The authoritarians in the electorate are rallying around the loudest voice in the tribe: Trump. Once aroused, it may be impossible to squelch them. And therein lies the problem.
Many conservatives–the Republican Establishment certainly–do not want to see this streak of authoritarianism die out. On the contrary, they want to harness it for themselves; their opposition to Trump is based purely on the fact that he has stolen their thunder and their power. In other words, while actual conservatives and libertarians want to put down Trump and destroy his toxic brew of fascism-lite, many Republicans and other “Establishment” figures as phony as Trump just want to get Trump out of the way so they can use his base of support to gain power–and then abuse power, as they are wont to do.
*Trump has of course “pledged” to not run 3rd-party if he fails to secure the nomination, but I don’t trust him to honor it, especially if the Republican Party resorts to any kind of chicanery–like the kind used to screw Ron Paul in 2012–to deny Trump the nomination. I mean, considering how much Trump has vacillated on various “policy positions” of his, would it really be any surprise if he reneged on a previous promise?
In a recent article The Economist wrote about Obama’s town hall on guns in America, the author (Lexington, an anonymous author whom this blog has criticized in the past, on this very same topic) was dismayed by what he (she?) saw.
“What came across, with dismaying clarity, was that this president’s critics listen to what he says about guns, and do not believe a word of it.”
Why should we? Why should we believe or listen to anything Mr. Obama says about guns? He says “I respect the 2nd Amendment” and yet he clearly doesn’t. Anyone who actually respects the 2nd Amendment never follows that statement with a “but”–the same way anyone who actually believes in free speech never says “I believe in free speech…but…”
That would be like saying “I respect women, but….”–whatever follows, it is just going to undermine your assertion. Someone who actually respects something usually does not feel the need to qualify it or put conditions on it. Of course, nobody is a mind reader. It is impossible to know Mr. Obama’s true sentiments on the 2nd Amendment, but to those of us who do respect the 2nd Amendment, Mr. Obama’s assertion comes across as pandering at best, disingenuous more commonly, and an outright lie occasionally. Put simply, to many–including this author–it is impossible to have “respect” for the 2nd Amendment and yet still believe in gun control beyond the most basic limitations, and anyone who is in favor of more control–by the government, just to be clear–is given a very healthy dose of skepticism.
However, one doesn’t need to be a mind reader–nor a pro-gun fanatic–to disbelieve any and everything Mr. Obama says about guns.
We the people who actually respect the 2nd Amendment don’t believe anything Mr. Obama says because his words do not match his actions.
Mr. Obama lives in a world where good intentions>results; we, by contrast, live in a world where results are what counts. Mr. Obama predicates his actions on words about mass shootings and yet among rational minds it is widely agreed his proposals would have done nothing to prevent any of the mass shootings he referenced.
We do not listen to Mr. Obama because there is a gap between his stated intent and his proposed action–that gap is what causes among us a lack of belief and a lack of trust. We do not trust Obama; we do not take him at his word, because his word, when compared to his action, makes no sense. The only logical conclusions therefore are either that Mr. Obama is incompetent on the matter–in which case discussion with him is going to be fruitless–or he has an ulterior motive he is not sharing with us. Is it any surprise that we believe a man who is otherwise brilliant in many respects could not be incompetent on this issue?