What is the meaning of the Donald Trump phenomenon? You can say what you like about him. He seems to be an exasperating mixture of buffoonery, narcissism and political cunning. Irrespective of the contempt expressed by conservative pundits, neo-conservatives, paleo-conservatives and libertarians alike, the Donald has surged to nearly 25% support of the Republican Party base.
The respected conservative, Jonah Goldberg, sees Trump as both a CINO (conservative in name only), and a RINO, (Republican in name only). Yet, he has blown previous political calculations out of the water. I agree with Quadrant‘s Michael Warren Davis that Trump will not, we trust, win the nomination, and that if by some mischance he did last the distance to the Republican Convention in 2016, he would effectively destroy the GOP. In the eyes of many, he may be a populist fraud, but he is appealing to a base deeply frustrated by the failure of the Republican Beltway leadership, especially in Congress. It would seem paradoxical that this “CINO” and “RINO” would gain support from a base, frustrated by the other CINOs and RINOs.
Yet, I very much doubt that this “support” will translate into votes, come the primary season. If otherwise, this would mean much of the Republican base was both angry and stupid. Ultimately, base anger, but not stupidity, will translate into votes for the most viable conservative candidate.
Does Trump really believe that he will win the Republican nomination? Say what you will about Trump. He is no fool. He has an agenda. What is it?
There are three possibilities. Let us consider each in turn.
(1) He actually wants the nomination. However, surely he would know that he would be smashed in a general election. A contest even with the increasingly discredited Hillary Clinton in November, 2016, would be no contest. A true believer/ideologue (think of Barry Goldwater in 1964) might be prepared to go down in glorious defeat. But would The Donald, populist and opportunist in so many ways? He would be watching the polls and surveys like a hawk. He is just as aware as his opponents that he cannot win in 2016. Becoming the biggest loser is no part of his agenda. But in the meantime, he can mess with people’s minds.
(2) He is a Democrat plant in the Republican Party, intended to destroy Republican chances in 2016. Evidence one could cite would include his past friendship with Hillary Clinton, past support for a single-payer health system and ambivalent statements over time on amnesty for illegals (despite his rants on the issue this year). I think that this notion is highly implausible. True, populists are not going to be renowned for consistency. But is it realistic to believe that Donald Trump would run the gauntlet of hatred and contempt from the very people whom he was seeking to benefit politically?
(3) Trump wants to deny the nomination to the likes of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, both of whom are perceived as soft on amnesty. I suspect that he wants to use the base to create a barrier against those Republicans whom he does not want. In essence, his campaign is negative rather than a positive campaign for himself. And by the way, did you observe the candidate with whom he is friendly and, conspicuously, he is not attacking? It is none other than Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who, incidentally, has raised significantly more money in recent days. Does this point to Trump’s real agenda? Kingmaker?
If Trump were to run as a third-party candidate, as sometimes speculated, he would need to attract disillusioned conservative voters. The notion that he would attract liberals seems risible. For all the criticism from conservatives of a more intellectual bent, I suspect that Trump, in his crude way, is seeking to ensure that the Republican Party will nominate an authentic conservative.
The next few months should be most interesting.