I live in a nation where Donald Trump is a serious contender for the presidential nomination of a major political party. I cannot tell you how disheartening that is.
Donald Trump should not be allowed near the Oval Office, not even as a tourist. In a just world, if he should so much as step foot on the grounds of the White House the Secret Service would have orders to shoot him so full of tranquilizer darts that he would wake up weeks later convinced he was a mermaid.
And yet there he is.
It could be his opposition, I suppose. After all, there’s – what? – six or eight hundred other declared candidates for the GOP nomination, and a quick look at them is all you need to disprove Darwinian Natural Selection, the Enlightenment’s optimism regarding human nature, and the entire idea that the cream rises to the top. As my grandmother used to say when confronted by similar sentiments, “shit floats too.” She was a lot of fun, my grandmother.
But really, who else does the Republican Party have?
According to one website that I checked, a site whose sole purpose is to keep track of the bouncing wigs in the GOP clown car, there are a total of 32 declared candidates for the nomination of that party. Half of them are what are defined as minor candidates – people nobody outside of their own families has ever heard of and who will likely never even appear on the ballot in any state. Some of them are clearly unstable, and the rest are merely deluded. You get a lot of that in American politics, where the entry barriers to running for office are fairly low, and that’s just how it goes. You can’t blame the Republicans for that.
The other sixteen are “major” candidates – people who seriously think they have a shot at the nomination, and who even more seriously think they can actually become president. It is a stellar list of people who should not, under any circumstances, be allowed to wield political power, and the fact that these people seriously think such things and feel right at home in that party, given the ludicrous and gratuitously cruel things that they routinely say in public, is in fact a damning indictment of the modern GOP.
After all, when you look at the list you find that Trump is competing against:
Ted Cruz, a walking advertisement for the importance of taking one’s medications.
Ben Carson, for people who think Ted Cruz is too sane.
Chris Christie, wannabe traffic cop.
Mike Huckabee, who seems to be campaigning to be the Chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention rather than President of the United States.
Bobby Jindal, Huey Long reincarnated and gone Galt.
Carly Fiorina, who singlehandedly ran a Fortune 500 company nearly into the ground.
Rand Paul, a Gilded Age relic just like his old man, because wasn’t 1877 fun?
Scott Walker, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries and a man whose rhetorical skills and grasp of complex issues have been compared unfavorably to those of the former half-term governor of Alaska.
Rick Santorum, a man voted in a bipartisan poll of Congressional staffers as the dumbest man in the legislature back when he was a Senator.
Rick Perry, secessionist from Texas, currently under indictment in his home state (but with snazzy new specs!).
Jeb! Bush, the man who brought you the Terry Schiavo fiasco and who is fully capable of giving four completely different answers to the same simple question within 72 hours, apparently in an effort to make his brother seem like the smart one.
Marco Rubio, because what the US needs is even more reason to hate Florida.
George Pataki, whom nobody outside of his home state has ever heard of and nobody ever will.
And, finally, Lindsey Graham, who may actually have a brain in there but who hides it under a thick layer of invective because he has figured out that having a brain is a distinct liability in the GOP primaries.
That’s not a candidate roster. That’s an awkward holiday dinner table full of weird uncles (and one aunt, so far). So Trump has that going for him, I suppose.
Except for the fact that Trump himself is an ignorant blowhard, a national embarrassment, and a bullshit salesman who has yet to express a single coherent policy or idea. Hell, even Scott Walker has policies, catastrophic as they are. Not The Donald. He doesn’t have ideas. He has junior-high-level nastiness and an ego that expands to fill whatever space is available.
And he’s winning.
The last poll I looked at had him with 24% of the vote for the Republican nomination for president, which is quite an achievement even at this early stage in a field of sixteen. For the math impaired, this means that right now nearly one out of every four Republican base voters has looked at this guy and said, “yes, this is the guy I want with his finger on the nuclear button.” If that doesn’t scare you, then you aren’t thinking clearly.
Honestly, though, I think Trump has the GOP over a barrel.
He’s stupid enough to say the things that they all think but won’t say publicly, and clever enough to know that it won’t hurt him with the batshit insanity that is the modern Republican base. The thinking Republicans – the ones who actually know how things work, a small and declining group in that party but not one without clout – can’t repudiate him because if they do they lose their most committed party members. They’ve spent years building up a base of rabid carny barkers susceptible to extreme right-wing rhetoric and now they’ve got a guy saying all those dog-whistle things in the clear and if they shut him down they lose the base that determines who wins the primaries. There will be howling and gnashing of teeth if that happens. But if they let him go on saying those things they alienate pretty much everyone who isn’t a hardcore right-wing social conservative Teabagger, which is well over three quarters of the population and not a recipe for success in the general election.
They’re stuck. If I worked for the Democratic Party, I don’t think I could devise a better weapon against the GOP than Donald Trump.
Oh, I have no doubt that The Donald will implode at some point. He will finally say something too outrageous, too close to the bone, and his popularity will wane. He’s already tried by criticizing John McCain’s status as a war hero. But then the Republicans were perfectly fine slandering other genuine war heroes like John Kerry, Max Cleland, and Tammy Duckworth, so this won’t actually hurt Trump in the least. The GOP has no use for veterans beyond creating them by the bushel basket in wars designed to enrich their friends who make weaponry, and their policy decisions and Congressional votes over the last decade or so make that crystal clear. Trump will survive this.
But eventually he will trip himself up.
And then what? Will he go quietly into the night? I think not. Perhaps he sets himself up as an independent candidate – he’s got the money and the ego. Perhaps he becomes a go-to commentator – he makes interesting copy, whatever you think of him. The last thing he’s going to do is shut up and play nice with his classmates. He’ll stay active.
At that point, the only question will be how much damage he does to the Republicans before it’s all over.
They created him. They earned him. They have him now. And we’re left holding the bag.
I’m not sure I want to live in a country where millions of people think he’s a viable candidate for anything. It speaks poorly of the future survival of the republic.
But here we are.