In a matter of only two months, business mogul and Reality-TV eccentric Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has gone from “a collective eye roll and a laugh” (Washington Post, June 16th) to a “Trump Tsunami” (Time.com, August 17th). His meteoric rise from quaint outsider to front-runner has left his Republican challengers scratching their heads in disbelief; with GOP apparatchiks bemoaning what was shaping up to be a gentlemanly and substantive duel between an Establishment candidate (read, “Jeb Bush”) and several sort-of-Establishment, and non-Establishment candidates (read, “everyone else”), turning into a bar room brawl, in which Trump is winning.
While the GOP ponders the why and how of Trump’s ascendancy, in reality, the party need look no further than the closest mirror. Trump is the GOP’s Rosemary’s Baby -- a phenomenon of the Republican Party’s own making; the result of years of failed leadership, broken promises and spineless decisions.
As Pogo said eloquently, “we have met the enemy and it is us.”
Leaders of the GOP inside and outside the Washington Beltway can blame Trump all they want for the deep-seated rage that is his fuel. But such blame falls hollow at Trump’s feet; he did not create this acrid environment -- they did. Trump is simply taking advantage of it. In a sense, it was only a matter of time before someone came along with the unbridled chutzpah and unlimited money of a Donald Trump, to cash in on the anti-Establishment anger that has long-simmered among the voting electorate.
In fact, a Donald Trump was forewarned us a century ago by the political satirist, H. L. Mencken. As the acid-tongued essayist from Baltimore noted, in an emotionally-driven and rationality-starved environment such as we find ourselves in today, “all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.”
To restate the obvious, Trump is not a conservative; he barely qualifies as a Republican. He is, as the National Review’s Charles Cooke pointed out recently in a debate with Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity, “a man in the Republican debate who praises single-payer . . . [who is] still talking about funding Planned Parenthood . . . who has flip-flopped perhaps on the wealth tax and on gun control . . . who on any other circumstances, would have been laughed at through the primary.” The problem for the GOP is, these are not any other circumstances; these are circumstances tailor-made for a candidate like Trump, who is a master of knowing how to game the masses – and the conservative media itself -- for the purposes of raising his own profile.
This is no longer the stuff of entertainment. Trump has become dangerously viable.
And what exactly has he offered in exchange for this outpouring of support?
He proudly refuses to offer substance; avoiding interviews that may actually challenge him to provide a fact-based vision for a Trump Administration. He proclaims himself the “world’s greatest negotiator,” but what does he “negotiate” aside from self-aggrandizement and fulfillment? He mouths inane statements loudly and repeatedly – such as “forcing” Mexico to pay for the massive and impenetrable border wall he will construct -- and crowds cheer him because he “doesn't back down” and “tells it like it is.” Doesn't “back down” from telling what “like it is” -- nonsensical blustering?
And still, people of otherwise rational mind flock to him because “he isn’t a politician”; as if not being a “politician” is now far more important than possessing a philosophy guided by the Constitution and a commitment to individual freedom.
Perhaps this is what Trumps represents most of all -- not a reflection of “discontent” among conservatives, but the willingness of so-called “conservatives” to abandon all semblance of logic, reason, and fidelity to the values that first “made America great,” in exchange for whomever simply barks the loudest that they will “make America great again.”
This signals a depressing shift in what we value as intellectual and moral leadership in the conservative movement; where we no longer are guided by the scholarly wisdom from the likes of William F. Buckley, but instead by the facile and superficial talking points mouthed by high-paid pundits. In this landscape devoid of high ideas and understanding, it is “The Donald,” not Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan, who serves as the standard bearer for “rebellion” against the status quo.
This is not progress. It is regression; and further serves the point that Mencken was trying to make -- that as the mob continues to feed upon its hysteria, eventually it “will reach [its] heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” Whether the GOP can stem this tide by changing its ways, thereby putting an end the source of unrest among its voters, is a question that goes to the very heart of what the Republican Party stands for . . . if anything.