The sentiment is familiar: ‘I hope the Republican Party nominates Donald Trump because it will be a bloodbath for them’, or words to that effect, is a social-media staple among non-Republicans. The seductive notion is that Trump is so unpalatable he will lose November’s presidential election in a landslide to Hillary Clinton. Therefore, or so the logic goes, Republicans would do better with someone less divisive. As a prevailing meme it serves not only as a reminder of the folly in taking advice from political enemies, but also of the punditocracy’s abysmal record of what are, quite frankly, delusional prognostications.
When the primaries season began, the conventional wisdom was ‘Republicans will never nominate Trump’. When the tycoon began to gain traction, it was ‘Trump will crash and burn’ and ‘he’s a temporary fad’. As he continued to gather delegates, wishful thinking coloured the prophecies, as in ‘they’ll wise up and pick Jeb Bush’. Each and every reading of the auguries proved untrue, a reminder that few things can equal the inertial mass of a political elite confronting a contrary reality. Whatever else Trump has achieved, he has certainly eroded the credibility of numerous political commentators.
The pundits’ mistake was to apply the rules of 2012 four years too late. When Trump denounced illegal aliens and the crimes many commit, the media establishment painted him as a racist and, tellingly, neglected to mention that his pledge to build a wall along the Rio Grande was prompted by, to cite but one example, the Mexican thug who had been deported five times before slipping over the border yet again to kill a young woman in San Francisco. Those who voted for Trump knew better. They grasped that there is already a border “wall” of sorts — armed patrols, cyclone wire, movement detectors — it’s just that it doesn’t work very well. In 2012, the racist tag worked just fine as a handy smear. Today, though, non-pundit Americans have watched the invasion of Europe, seen the erosion of borders and national sovereignty, made note of crimes committed by those with no legal right to be on US soil. In the world they inhabit, the world the elites refuse to acknowledge, what Trump says makes perfect sense.
Likewise, Trump’s pronouncements on Islamic immigration. After every latest Islamist massacre the elites grab the nearest photogenic imam, summon the media and proclaim Islam as the Religion of Peace™. Voters, however, recall 9/11 and, more recently, the San Bernadino massacre by a Muslim husband and wife who killed the very same workmates who organised a baby shower for them. Once again, Trump emerges as the candidate who best grasps reality.
Likewise, previous orthodoxies also have been called into question. Obama campaigned in 2008 on the implicit pledge that he would restore the world’s love for America by renouncing what he evidently regarded as its arrogant and imperialist hubris. The result? A shrunken global presence, a shameful deal with Iran’s religious fascists and a vacuum where once Pax Americana prevailed. These factors, compounded and manifested in the rise of the Tea Party, contributed to an overall feeling of disconnect between Main Street and its Washington betters.
The Republican establishment was never weaker than in the 2016 primary, nor its view of the campaign’s ground rules more myopic. Why would the Republican Party nominate Jeb Bush and thereby agree to play out the election according to Hillary Clinton’s terms? Why would they fight for the affections of the minority of voters actively engaged in the political process while turning their backs on the 70%-or-so who, in any normal year, display their disdain for professional politicians by not bothering to vote? All of this would be playing into the hands of Hillary Clinton, who anticipated an orderly transition into the Oval Office, there to continue the work and policies of the Obama administration.
The flawed approach and restricted horizons of the Republican establishment was demonstrated by the dismal primary campaigns of Bush and Chris Christie. Bush, once the front-runner, saw his hopes first dented by Trump and then shattered in their entirety. In GOP debates he appeared bland and uncertain of just why he should be president. Christie’s campaign never really took off and, after the emergence of Trump as a viable contender, he called it quits.
Unlike Christie, who saw the writing on the wall and endorsed Trump, the GOP establishment seems oblivious to what is happening before its very eyes. Some, such as the Speaker Paul Ryan, held off endorsing Trump. Others, and here I think of Mark Salter, John McCain’s chief-of-staff, are actually and publicly hoping for a Clinton victory. The very idea of staunch Republicans endorsing a Clinton over their own party’s presumptive nominee would have been fanciful just twelve months ago, but no longer. The GOP establishment despises Trump for tearing up the political rule book, shattering the orthodoxies they have spent their careers trying to legitimise. Professional politicians of an allegedly conservative strike have every reason to detest the liberal media and biased mainstream press, but seldom dare to express those sentiments openly. Trump, by contrast, brands the press gang sleazebags to their faces and average Americans cheer.
The last of the punditocracy’s comforting myths to be dismantled has been the oh-so-confident prediction that Trump would fall short of the delegates required to cement his nomination at the Cleveland convention and be sent packing by a floor vote. Now, with the convention looming, Trump is the last Republican standing and his presidential nomination cannot be denied by the machinations of party elders and operatives scheming in the smoke-filled rooms of legend. They should have known better, if only on the strength of the legions of blue-collar Democrats he brought into the GOP fold during the primaries.
To the Republican establishment Hillary Clinton represents a last ditch effort at vindication — vindication in the sense that, if only the masses had listened to its GOP elites, they will be able to say that the party could have won. To do an injustice to Milton, they would rather rule in the perpetual hell of impotent opposition than serve in Trump’s White House. The naked self-interest is alarming. Rather than accept the political reality of the here-and-now, that voters are fed up with the Washington establishment and will be quite happy to see a bull let loose in its china shop, the Republican establishment holds its nose and remains lukewarm at best in backing the party’s now-inevitable candidate. What they don’t seem to grasp is that the great unwashed notice that same truculence and see their dour appraisals of the elites confirmed.
Trump is by no means a shoe-in for the presidency; he still has a Himalayan range to ascend if he is to defeat the Clinton machine. But he has made it to Base Camp and shows no sign of flagging. As Clinton struggles to put pay to Bernie Sanders while simultaneously facing the prospect of an angry and fractious convention, such intramural discord does not bother Trump. Indeed, the more the GOP establishment makes faces at the prospect of the outsider carrying its banner in November, the greater Trump’s appeal grows.
We have no way of knowing how Trump will fare in November. What we do know is that there is no reason to believe his critics. After all, they have been wrong about everything else.