The Problem with Trump

 

The-Emperors-New-ClothesAfter successive wins in South Carolina and New Hampshire, Donald Trump is very much the Republican frontrunner. In attempting to make sense out of his scattered foreign policy statements over the last few weeks, observers have tried to locate him within the usual categories: Is he a hawk or a dove? An isolationist or a realist? My take is that he taps into nationalist feelings more than anything else — albeit in a discombobulated way. Attempts at pigeonholing him are useful as far as they go, but they still miss the single most important thing about Trump, along with his biggest foreign policy problem; namely, he is completely unfit to be America’s commander-in-chief.

Let’s begin by stipulating that many of Trump’s supporters are reacting with understandable anger against some disturbing national trends of the last decade or more. Wages are stagnant; there is a feeling that the US is in relative decline; political correctness has run amok; the nation’s elites show a kind of contempt for blue-collar white voters; the country’s immigration bureaucracy is clearly dysfunctional; and America has seemed unable convincingly to win a series of military engagements overseas. Indeed, these negative trends have accelerated under Barack Obama. But Trump offers no serious solutions to any of these problems. He only points to others’ flaws, even when his own flaws are vastly greater.

Take, for example, Trump’s recent statements about George W. Bush and Iraq. For some of his supporters, Trump deserves acclaim for finally opening up a genuine debate about the 2003 invasion of Iraq (as if Americans haven’t been debating that war for the past fourteen years). No, Trump’s real innovation here is to be a leading GOP candidate who openly taps into wingnut conspiracy theories, not only the idea that Bush knowingly lied about Iraq’s WMD — a charge for which there has never been any evidence — but that the former president may have somehow known about the 9/11 attacks beforehand. A despicable, baseless claim.

Regarding the argument that George W. Bush made fateful mistakes in Iraq: no kidding. There is in fact no record indicating that Trump opposed that war at the time. Now, what does he propose to do about it, in redirecting America’s foreign relations fourteen years later?

Here is Trump’s foreign policy platform for 2017, insofar as it exists, together with its inevitable consequences: Raise US tariffs sky-high, encouraging the formation of 1930s-style protectionist blocs and thus mutual economic impoverishment; crack down on allies such as Mexico and Japan, rather than obvious US adversaries such as Vladimir Putin’s Russia; completely alienate Muslim allies in the fight against ISIS and Al Qaeda; and ignore, downgrade, or belittle America’s leading role in maintaining world peace since the Second World War. Altogether, a recipe for disaster both internationally and for the United States.

Equally serious are Trump’s deep failings of character. This is absolutely relevant to being Commander-in-Chief. We are about to elect someone with powers over war and peace, life and death. We expect this person to be minimally above the bar in terms of personal integrity. Trump clearly is not. Politics can be an insincere business, but even by contemporary standards, Trump stands out as a truly shameless liar. He misrepresents people, issues, and ideas so aggressively that many watching seem either impressed or astonished into acquiescence — they’ve just never seen anything like it.

But the emperor has no clothes. Trump’s dysfunctional temperament over multiple decades is abundantly clear. The idea that this megalomaniac will suddenly now stick up for the little guy or be fit to command those in uniform would be a practical joke, except that it’s not funny. He has never fought for anything larger than his own personal aggrandizement, fame, and celebrity; nor has he recently started. His entire presidential campaign rests on the conceit that having enjoyed every other material pleasure life has to offer, he’d really like to be president. Even his attention-getting stands on key issues such as immigration reflect no consistent position held over any period of time. He’s obviously not a conservative. Nor is he a political moderate; that would require some core convictions. What he is, above all, is a con artist. Incredibly, many of Trump’s own supporters admit this, and then reply that since the whole game is rigged, why not just elect the biggest con artist of them all. This isn’t clever. It’s debased.

The electoral argument made by Trump’s supporters is that by profoundly redirecting Republicans against free trade, immigration, and US foreign policy leadership — while abandoning other conservative traditions on domestic economic and social issues — he will pick up new voters for the GOP. This is not only wrong, but delusional politically. Hillary Clinton is eminently beatable this November, but not by Donald Trump. This is regularly confirmed in polling match-ups between the two of them. Since both Clinton and Trump have embraced ill-considered opposition to free trade, that issue will be a wash. He may pick up a few Democrats and independents willing to vote on the single issue of immigration, but Trump will lose far more voters than he gains with his positions and persona.

First, there will be millions of principled conservatives and Republicans unwilling to vote for this bizarre candidate, even if they cannot bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton. Second, Trump’s noxious personality and outrageous policy positions will turn off swathes of moderate and independent swing voters who might otherwise consider voting Republican this November. Third, he will energize unprecedented numbers of Hispanics to turn out and cast their ballots against him. Finally, insofar as voters look for steady, well-informed, capable leadership in foreign affairs — and they do — they will not turn to Trump. Hillary will ask the obvious question: Would you trust Donald Trump’s hands on the American nuclear arsenal in an international crisis? And the answer will be no. Unfortunately, Hillary will then not be held accountable for her multiple failings as Secretary of State, because to the median voter, Trump will seem even more unappetizing by comparison.

The notion that all of these various losses can be counteracted simply by mobilizing white, conservative-leaning, blue-collar voters, is a myth. These voters already exist: They’re called “Republicans.” If the stars line up for him, Trump may indeed have found a new way to secure the GOP’s nomination. He has not found a new way to secure the White House, and his nomination will mean almost certain defeat for Republicans this fall — linked to congressional, state, and local GOP losses all the way down the line.

There’s been a lot of talk about how anti-establishment Donald Trump is, how this is central to his appeal. Of course, everyone in American politics claims to be anti-establishment. It’s the ultimate self-licking ice cream cone. Obviously, no political party can function without elected officials, activists, donors, and opinion leaders. That’s your establishment, and by the way, “opinion leaders” include talk radio hosts who reach millions of listeners every day and influential billionaires like Donald Trump. So get over it.

The real question is, what does the party stand for? Traditionally, and particularly because of the legacy of conservative nominees like Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, Republicans have stood for limited government, established moral traditions, and a strong foreign policy. Donald Trump neither stands for nor embodies any of these things. Trump is comparable to Goldwater only in that he is likely to suffer a crushing defeat. In every other way, Trump is Goldwater’s opposite: in your heart, you know he’s wrong. If the GOP had a party establishment half as powerful as generally suggested, it would have long since rallied against Donald Trump in an effective and unified way, because the man is well on track to wreck the Republican Party along with that legacy. We’ll see if members of the supposed GOP establishment start to line up behind him if he truly appears to be winning the nomination several weeks or months from now. If they do, this would confirm Trump’s suspicions: Above all, they seek access, and are no more conservative than he is.

Because Trump is such a polarizing figure, his continued success in the GOP primaries is still not inevitable. Plenty of Republicans continue to support a sane, principled, conservative vision of their party that deserves to win and is ready to govern. Since two-thirds of GOP voters polled do not support the current front-runner, the issue is no longer establishment versus anti-establishment; it’s conservatives versus Trump. But of course, the anti-Trump forces cannot succeed as long as they are divided. The obvious alternative now is Marco Rubio. Ted Cruz will struggle to expand beyond his core support. Candidates such as John Kasich, who continue to poll in single digits nationwide even after multiple primaries, are not going to win the nomination this time around. Their main impact will be to prevent the consolidation of mainstream conservative voters against Donald Trump, in which case he really could win the nomination. This is no reflection on the credentials, solidity, or good intentions of these other candidates. It’s just the brutal mathematics of this primary season. Jeb Bush ran an honorable campaign, but did the right thing by dropping out.

The founders of this country fully expected that from time to time, loud-mouthed demagogues of demonstrably low character and inflammatory skill would try  to capture the country’s highest office. In other words, they expected someone like Trump. That’s exactly why they built so many institutional checks and safeguards into the American political system. But they also hoped the electorate would have the wisdom and good judgment to see through such charlatans beforehand.

In the end, the party establishment won’t deny Donald Trump the presidency. The voters will. And if Republican primary voters don’t do it, the American public will in November. The entire Trump campaign represents a kind of colossal bet that he alone can not only fool some of the people some of the time, but all of the people all of the time. Since he can’t, that gamble will fail.

Republicans would be well-advised to jump off this would-be train-wreck or take over the controls, before Trump inevitably crashes it. Because one way or another, before this year is over, Donald Trump is going to end up as the very thing he hates most. A loser.

There are 48 comments.

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  1. Dex Quire Inactive
    Dex Quire
    @DexQuire

    RyanM, I’ll leave you to your Nazi analogies … I’m due back on planet Earth in a few …

    • #31
  2. Brian McMenomy Inactive
    Brian McMenomy
    @BrianMcMenomy

    One of Trump’s most potent talents is a corollary of Obama’s skills.  Obama campaigned in vague, gauzy terms to allow the voter to project their views onto him (thus, making Obama an ally of the voter in the voter’s mind).  Trump has explicitly said that he can be “whatever he wants” depending on the situation.  If a previous position is unpopular, he calls the questioner a loser, claims he never said what he said, and changes the subject, all in the guise of “telling it like it is”.  He projects himself onto whatever he perceives is the voter’s concern.  It’s a dangerous, dishonest talent, but it has the utility of rendering criticism into mush.

    Example:  Trump poses as a champion of the little guy, but tell that to the “little guys” he tries to steamroll if they are in the way of one of his projects (on either side of the Atlantic).  He doesn’t just want their land; he wants to break their spirit (endless lawsuits, public disparagement, etc.).

    This talent, combined with the completely legitimate frustration of a large swath of the electorate (and a fragmented primary field), and this is what we get; a skilled, intelligent demagogue with no regard for anything other than the enlargement of his own ego leads the chase for the nomination.

    At some point, the spell has to break.  My worry is what we will have to go through between now and then.

    • #32
  3. TKC1101 Inactive
    TKC1101
    @TKC1101

    BrentB67: Trump’s judgment and inconsistencies are cause for concern. I’ve thought for months he exhibits what appears to be early stage Alzheimers or dementia as evidenced by his ramblings, inconsistencies and inability to endure 2+ hour debates

    Brent, you may be right, or it could be that he talks like guys from Queens talk. When I hear Trump, he talks like my older brother, who never left Long Island. It seems rambling but it is actually shorthand. New Yorkers are always in a hurry and complete sentences are a luxury to them. They lose patience with silly time wasters , like the travesties our media and Pols call ‘debates”.

    It is jarring and nerve wracking if you are used to hearing the language with some precision.

    It also could be why I am less worried on an emotional level about him winning than many here.  I after all, am just another idiot New Yorker, easily fooled.

    I understand your concern. We seem to have taken ‘lesser of evils” to Olympic proportions this year. We have a guy who possibly could win a historic landslide with new voters who seems to have impulse control issues and talks like a democrat at the worst times versus a guy who may be the smartest conservative  in   decades who seems to only appeal to a much smaller slice of voters versus a telegenic and rhetorically gifted young man who seems to shift with the wind on the issue of the year.

    • #33
  4. Richard Finlay Inactive
    Richard Finlay
    @RichardFinlay

    Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero ….

    Where does Trump fit on this scale?

    • #34
  5. TKC1101 Inactive
    TKC1101
    @TKC1101

    RyanM: The only real way to beat Trump is to have a public that doesn’t buy into his garbage. Frankly, with this electorate, that might not be possible

    SO your plan is to not beat Trump on the issues, but to trade the current electorate for another one. Perhaps from Mexico?

    • #35
  6. Columbo Member
    Columbo
    @Columbo

    TKC1101:

    RyanM: The only real way to beat Trump is to have a public that doesn’t buy into his garbage. Frankly, with this electorate, that might not be possible

    SO your plan is to not beat Trump on the issues, but to trade the current electorate for another one. Perhaps from Mexico?

    “You go to war with the electorate you have, not the electorate you might want or wish you had at a later time.” … paraphrasing SecDef Rumsfeld

    • #36
  7. RyanM Member
    RyanM
    @RyanM

    Dex Quire:RyanM, I’ll leave you to your Nazi analogies … I’m due back on planet Earth in a few …

    Simply because people overuse Nazi analogies, or because people misuse them, does not mean that nothing can ever accurately be analogized.  That would be a real shame when it comes to learning lessons from our past.  Unfortunately, the rise of Trump, as well as the rise of Sanders, seems to closely parallel – when it comes to public sentiment – the rise of Germany’s nazi party.  Imagine that the holocaust never happened, and that instead of invading Poland, Hitler simply bombed the hell out of ISIS.

    I see you casually dismissing the analogy, but I can casually dismiss the sunrise and it’s still going to get light out… let’s hear your argument against my point, instead.

    • #37
  8. RyanM Member
    RyanM
    @RyanM

    TKC1101:

    RyanM: The only real way to beat Trump is to have a public that doesn’t buy into his garbage. Frankly, with this electorate, that might not be possible

    SO your plan is to not beat Trump on the issues, but to trade the current electorate for another one. Perhaps from Mexico?

    The current electorate, all but some 20-odd percent of self-described republicans, are perfectly well-versed on the issues, which is why they do not support Trump.  Virtually nothing the man has sad in any addresses “the issues,” so no, I don’t expect to beat Trump on the issues.  He has not laid out any issues about which to fight.  As for the cult of personality, there are only 2 ways to deal with it.  Either people are extremely upset when they drink the elixir and it doesn’t clear the rash, or they wake up and see that it is a con.  I’m not hopeful, because Obama was a con-man along much the same lines as Trump.  When it didn’t work out, his supporters simply blamed the “republican obstructionism” bogeyman…  funny thing about that, because the rise of Trump is due to the claim that there wasn’t any such thing as “republican obstructionism.”  So everyone’s upset.

    Better guess is that Trump, as I said, ever the con-man, is willing to yell those things that everyone knows are either false or impossible.  His supporters find that “refreshing,” I suppose, and the stupider ones actually believe him…  either way, nobody is going to get what they want.  So yes, my hope is that this group of the electorate actually does wake up; maybe then we can actually discuss the issues, which is all it would take to “beat Trump on the issues.”

    • #38
  9. RyanM Member
    RyanM
    @RyanM

    Ansonia:Probably everyone else already has, but if you haven’t, watch on You Tube “The Vicious Snake” with its pictures of mobs of violent immigrants in Europe, narrated by Donald Trump. (He truly does make it seem like Aesop’s wisest fable.)

    We have this false faith that Trump is wearing clothes ( I mean that he has viable solutions, or that it isn’t disturbing he validates, for his less informed supporters, despicable, chaos and confusion inducing, lies about President Bush ) simply because he’s willing to put our deepest fears related to immigration into simple, powerful words. People will forgive him anything because he does this.

    Exactly.  The appeal is to fear and to anger, never to reason.  He looked at the internet side-bar that says “these 5 foods are giving you cancer,” and seized the moment.  I keep referencing snake-oil, because the parallel is almost direct.  Advertisements for medicine and health-remedies both stoke and take advantage of natural fears.  But they virtually never deliver as promised.  In the case of Trump, he doesn’t even pretend to have the answer.  He just stokes the fear and allows people to make the assumption…  The fact that more people cannot see through the paper thin, utterly disgusting, display is somewhat terrifying.

    • #39
  10. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    Re comment # 39

    Trump stoked people’s fear, but that by itself wouldn’t have gotten him this far. What he did was tell people they had good reasons for concern over immigration when, in fact, they do, and when other politicians seemed to be arrogantly dismissing their concern and the reasons for it.

    We’re inclined to think people who understand us, and who seem to like us, are in our corner because we more strongly want it to be so.
    As someone on Ricochet pointed out, all good con artists are empathetic

    • #40
  11. Gary Robbins Reagan
    Gary Robbins
    @GaryRobbins

    A vote for Trump in the Republican primaries is a vote for Hillary.  Trump cannot and will not win.

    • #41
  12. Richard Fulmer Inactive
    Richard Fulmer
    @RichardFulmer

    Trump’s main talent is that he knows how to leverage his celebrity.  Every day he makes an outrageous statement in time to get on the 6 o’clock news.  The MSM is happy to showcase him 24/7 because he gets ratings and because he will be the easiest “Republican” to beat.

    • #42
  13. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    RyanM:

    Dex Quire:RyanM, I’ll leave you to your Nazi analogies … I’m due back on planet Earth in a few …

    Simply because people overuse Nazi analogies, or because people misuse them, does not mean that nothing can ever accurately be analogized. That would be a real shame when it comes to learning lessons from our past. Unfortunately, the rise of Trump, as well as the rise of Sanders, seems to closely parallel – when it comes to public sentiment – the rise of Germany’s nazi party. Imagine that the holocaust never happened, and that instead of invading Poland, Hitler simply bombed the hell out of ISIS.

    I see you casually dismissing the analogy, but I can casually dismiss the sunrise and it’s still going to get light out… let’s hear your argument against my point, instead.

    I don’t think it’s a bad analogy, Ryan, but I just finished reading Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, so I’ve been prepped for nuanced Hilter/Nazi references. If you make allowances for the obvious (Trump isn’t Hitler, America isn’t Between-the-Wars Germany) there are similarities. These would show up in any comparison between political leaders inclined to present themselves not as the best guy to run one of three co-equal branches of the federal government, but as solo Strong Men: “I’ll build a wall and make Mexico pay for it!”

    • #43
  14. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Donald Trump is definitely not Hitler.  America’s Vladimir Putin, maybe?

    • #44
  15. Mike LaRoche Inactive
    Mike LaRoche
    @MikeLaRoche

    Godwin is doing cartwheels in his grave.

    • #45
  16. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    Mike LaRoche:Godwin is doing cartwheels in his grave.

    I know, Mike. It’s a problem. Comparing someone to Hitler is so often merely an insult (toothbrush mustaches added to pictures of Bush, Obama, “Hitlery” etc) that it’s difficult to make a serious attempt at comparison, or to have other people take your attempt seriously anyway.

    Virtually every page of Goldberg’s book (which has a smiley-face with a toothbrush mustache on the cover)  contains some variation of a disclaimer to the effect that he’s not actually saying Hillary will recreate Auschwitz.

    On the other hand, his insistence that if you subtract anti-Semitism and Auschwitz from fascism—Italy was fascist without being anti-Semitic, so this isn’t a hypothetical exercise—Hitler was indeed a socialist, with far more in common ideologically with the American left (past and present) than with the right, is interesting and, to some considerable degree, persuasive. And useful, though of course, my very nice liberal husband just rolled his eyes (Godwin in his grave?) when he saw the book’s cover.

    Since Trump also appears to have a lot more in common ideologically with the left than with the right…and to the extent that his rhetoric reflects either ignorance of or disdain for the constitutional structures under which he would, if elected, have to operate… I get where Ryan is coming from.

    • #46
  17. OmegaPaladin Moderator
    OmegaPaladin
    @OmegaPaladin

    When does it become okay to compare someone to Hitler or Nazis, anyway?  If someone is a nationalist socialist, is it okay to mention the NSDAP?

    Trump reminds me of what my friend in Poland says about their right-wing parties, some of which are much more economically liberal.

    • #47
  18. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    OmegaPaladin:When does it become okay to compare someone to Hitler or Nazis, anyway? If someone is a nationalist socialist, is it okay to mention the NSDAP?

    Trump reminds me of what my friend in Poland says about their right-wing parties, some of which are much more economically liberal.

    One could skip the words “Nazi” and “Hitler” and just use “fascist,” but that doesn’t help a whole lot, since (as Goldberg writes, and I can confirm from personal experience) fascism is [supposedly] to the right what communism is to the left—that is, the going-too-far version, at best. At worst, it’s code for “what ” thinking people”  disapprove of.”

    “Since we must have a working definition of fascism, here’s mine,” Goldberg writes “Fascism is a religion of the state. It assumes the organic unity of the body politic and longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people. It is totalitarian in that it views everything as political and holds that any action of the state is justified to achieve the common good. it takes responsibility for all aspects of life, including our health and well-being, and seeks to impose uniformity of thought and action, whether by force or through regulation and social pressure. Everything, including the economy and religion, but be aligned with its objectives. Any rival identity is part of the “problem” and therefore aligned with the enemy.” (23)

    Or, as a kind of shorthand, keep a wary eye on anyone who claims to speak for or act on behalf of “the people”—he or she will be very rough on actual persons.

    • #48
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