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The Trump Cult of Personality and its Conservative Media Enablers



Of course they would; this is how cults of personality operate. Please recall this Huffington Post poll released in September. It demonstrated how Republican voters -- driven, it would seem, by Trump backers -- became astonishingly supportive of (a) maintaining the Iran nuclear deal, (b) government-run and -funded healthcare, and (c) race-based affirmative action when the pollster informed respondents that those positions were held by Donald Trump, as opposed to Barack Obama.  These aren't hypotheticals, by the way.  Follow those links, and you'll discover that longtime Democrat Donald Trump has embraced all three liberal stances during his current presidential run. Not back when he was donating generously to Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid over the years (yes, yes, "because he's a businessman!"), and not even more recently, when Trump was declaring his support for the wasteful "stimulus" package enacted by Obama, whom he declared had rescued the American economy; no, these are viewpoints articulated by the current iteration of Trump.  The punchline is that his supporters don't care at all.  Trump's Democrat-style campaign is driven by feelings and identity, not issues.  The HuffPo survey also revealed the same phenomenon at play on the other end of the spectrum, as hordes of Obama cultists reflexively tossed foundational liberal-left ideals overboard after they were told they were agreeing with Trump, versus Obama.  Can we abandon all reason and alleged principles in order to march in lockstep with an anointed political figure, or oppose a bete noir?  Yes we can. The point is that emotion-based hero worship can heavily erode afflicted parties' previous adherence to values, ideology, and critical thinking.

Splitting the loosely-defined "center-right" political coalition would vastly increase the likelihood of a Hillary Clinton victory next November.  That outcome likely wouldn't particularly bother Trump; therefore, his followers are similarly Ready For Hillary, at least in practice.  Trump, who signed an unequivocal pledge to support the eventual GOP nominee and forgo an independent run, has recently indicated that he's open to discarding his promise.  This reversal won't hurt him among his groupies, who are comfortable being lied to -- hence their unbending boosterism of this man, and their de facto abetment of Mrs. Clinton.  The billionaire mogul is publicly touting the USA Today poll, an unsubtle warning to Republicans that he'd be more than happy to burn the place down if he doesn't get his way:


And to put an even finer point on it, Trump is now saying, "I. Will. Never. Leave. This. Race."  That sound you hear is corks popping at DNC headquarters.  Which brings me to my larger point. A number of Trump's enablers in the conservative media firmament (some of whom loudly expressed contempt for him not long ago) are caught up in the same sort of feedback loop they routinely ridicule when it exists on the Left or within the GOP establishment.  Here's how the coy game has worked:  When Trump is right, they praise him.  Fine.  When Trump is factually wrong, while making an argument that may contain a "larger truth," they justify his inaccuracies.  When Trump lies, they deflect and excuse.  And when Trump does something indefensible, they side-step the substance, resorting to marveling at how masterful he is at "driving a narrative," playing the media, and aggravating all the 'right' people.  Sure, he may be a sloppy, impulsive, non-conservative ignoramus on actual policy, but at least "he fights" in a manner that gratifies our audience's political id; plus, "without him, we wouldn't even be talking about [fill in the blank]!"  There's never an explicit endorsement, mind you, just loads of adulation.  And airtime.  In response to Trump's ridiculous 'Muslim ban' proposal, which has been rejected by every other Republican presidential candidate, Rush Limbaugh had this to say:

As a long-time listener who has been entertained and informed by Rush's prodigious "talent on loan from God" for years, this protracted game of footsie with Trump is deeply demoralizing.  They're both hyper-successful Alpha Males and occasional golf partners, so perhaps there's some personal solidarity and friendship in the mix, but Rush's calling card has always been the fierce defense of conservative principles.  He excoriates "establishment" politicians for ideological deviations and heresies, shreds liberal strawmen, and exposes posers.  Trump is a self-serving, unprincipled, unreliable political shape-shifter.  He's a walking, bloviating strawman, habitually arming the Left with ammunition to claim vindication for their cartoonish characterizations of conservatives.  And he's the ultimate conservative poser.  He may be pushing the right buttons to suit a segment of the populace's mood, but he evinces exceedingly tenuous knowledge of issues, and displays little in the way of loyalty to any core convictions beyond, "what benefits Donald J. Trump at this exact moment?"  The above quote from Rush's Tuesday monologue attributes conservative criticisms of Trump to some deep-seated desire to earn "respect and admiration" from the biased mainstream media -- the "drive-bys" as Rush calls them, a moniker that is often infuriatingly apt.  This is a variation of the tired "Beltway cocktail party" refrain, wherein right-of-center figures deemed insufficiently devoted to the cause are presumed to be in the thrall of coastal elitists.  That template isn't always inaccurate, it must be said, but it's been overused and abused as a means of impugning motives, rather than engaging arguments. A staple of the 
End of Discussion Left.  

I, for one, harbor no secret desire to ingratiate myself with the Ruling Class.  I couldn't care less if media elites disdain my existence or sneer at my beliefs as the stuff of antediluvian knuckle-draggers.  I refuse to comply with the Left's insipid, cynical identity politics regulations.  I'm not a dogmatic conservative on every issue, but I lean decidedly and transparently to the right, without apology.  I regularly critique Trump not as a means of signaling to the Left that I'm a "sensible conservative" or whatever, though I do strive to be sensible.  I do it because I sincerely believe Trump lacks the character, temperament, mastery of issues, and ideological underpinnings to be a viable general election nominee against a dishonest Statist who must be beaten.  If I'm proven wrong on that count, I'm convinced he would not preside over an effective or conservative presidency, for the same reasons.  Bluntly, I view the man who currently leads the contest to carry my worldview's flag into political battle as a net threat, not a net asset, to that worldview.  I also believe Trump's oft-praised ability to "manipulate" the media is, in fact, giddily aided by the media, which delights in a three-pronged payoff:  Trump drives ratings and clicks through the roof, while drowning out stronger Republican presidential alternatives, and making the party look like an unserious clown car in the eyes of key voting blocs that will decide next year's election.

For all the talk of Trump's antics "not hurting him," evidenced by his poll position holding steady or ticking up, that analysis only narrowly applies to the fractured Republican electorate.  Among the broader
general electorate, Trump's favorability rating is (35/57) overall, (31/60) with independents, (29/63) with women -- in a cycle in which the presumptive Democratic nominee has precisely one big card to play -- (23/69) among young voters, the largest emerging voting cohort in American politics, and (9/84) with Hispanic voters, a group Trump delusionally predicts he'll win outright.  Bear in mind that Trump also enjoys virtually universal name recognition, meaning that he is already solidly defined in most voters' minds.  Yes, he's done most of that defining on his own terms, thanks to his unquestionably effective flood-the-zone media strategy. But re-read the favorability data just quoted, and contemplate how effective he's been at positioning himself to actually win a national election.  

My opposition to Trump, therefore, is rooted in a commitment to principles, an abiding belief that character matters, and a burning desire to win.  People are welcome to disagree with my analysis.  Rush Limbaugh, who's been at this longer than I've been alive, may recognize some utility in Trump that I'm missing.  But I wish he and others would quit suggesting that passionate conservative resistance to Trump must be a capitulation to political correctness, or a "tell" that one has been seduced by the siren song of impressing the so-called 'smart set.'  Indeed, motive-impugning can cut both ways.  For instance, some have suggested that Rush et al are indulging Trump against their better judgment because they're fearful of alienating their own audience, having stoked the embers of anti-establishment resentment for so long.  But rather than ascribing unseemly and ulterior motives to one another, perhaps those of us who still care about issues and who prioritize the defeat of Hillary Clinton should focus our energies on a serious, substantive debate about who best fulfills William F. Buckley's
sage electoral standard: Who is the most conservative candidate with the best chance of winning?  The answer to that question is necessarily subjective on both fronts, and opinions will inevitably vary.  I'd submit that Donald Trump satisfies neither criterion; just the opposite, in fact.  Despite his attention-grabbing bravado and unapologetic demeanor that appeals to many right-leaning voters at the moment, a robust empirical case can be made that he's both the least conservative and least electable figure in the GOP race.  If you disagree, terrific.  Feel free state your case and employ arguments to persuade Trump skeptics, preferably while eschewing his penchant for personal invective.  I'll leave you with this -- which is, with respect, not persuasive: 

Comparing Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, Charles Krauthammer, and Dick Cheney -- among many others -- to Hamas for opposing Trump's half-baked, already-revised Muslim moratorium "plan" relies on logic so fatuous that I'd very much enjoy listening to a Rush Limbaugh segment eviscerating it. If only it had been deployed by somebody else, against somebody else.

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