Addendum: What if Trump Just Subsides Instead of Exploding Trumpastrophically?

As kind of an addendum to the prior post:

The following tweet went round last night:

Came up in discussion over at OT (this post is an amended comment) on Daniel Drezner’s theory that Republican donors, activists, candidates, and others who listen to Poli Sci types like himself were lulled into fatal complacency by the numerous assurances that Trump couldn’t win. Yet, even now, political observers in general can’t look at the graphic in that tweet without saying to themselves this Trump thing can’t possibly last.

I had the wayward thought last night that the Trump bubble, which many of us have been expecting to pop with an audible sound in one typically  Trumpastrophic moment would just deflate on its own – that, one day soon, we’d just look up from our wailing and gnashing and notice that his support was declining, that people were just less interested in his latest verbal atrocities, that fewer people were showing up at his rallies and those who did were less excited… in short that the story would just move on without him, gradually, at least at first. It happens to shows that make a splash then turn boring. I thought it had happened months ago – after a tepid debate performance – and was wrong, but what if Trump, even if he runs the table during the next round of primaries, does so limply, losing a handful of states to Cruz and/or Rubio, while under-performing his polls in some places severely? At that point brokered convention scenarios might start getting more real (a reality show to top them all!) – unless the slide snowballs, and he stops winning at all: Then we’d be back to figuring out how much of a platform he’d get at the RNC.

The only real downside would be that all of our wailings and gnashings – and careful analyses and theoretical speculation etc. – would turn out to have been as much a waste of time as all of the bombastic campaigning and kerfuffles of the day.

If that’s what occurs, I hope it doesn’t happen – or isn’t noticed – until my current featured wailer-gnasher-theorizer has moved into the deeper archives.


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TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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