If the Trump Roast Is Done, Give the Crucians Some Credit

Polls with Cruz surging, Trump flat at best, are reinforcing a general sense – once a hope, now an expectation – that Wisconsin next week will be Trump’s electoral Stalingrad. As I put it on Twitter a few days ago:

Or, observing another straw in the wind:

By the next day, as one goofy-heretical Trumpism piled on top of another, observers were reviving suspicions not strongly voiced since the end of last Fall:

Comedian Lynn Bixenspan summed up my feelings:

I wasn’t able to be as pithy:

Switching metaphors:

No need to review the week of stupidity etc. – most of it seemingly unforced errors by Trump himself, some of the worst ones subsequent my Monday tweet – not when other observers are already casting their wisdom retrospectively to earlier turning points, when Trump seemed to miss whatever chance he had, against character, to unify the party around him.

We may never again see a frontrunner as obviously unacceptable as Donald Trump has been. Indeed, we may someday look back nostalgically on the brute who was kind enough to be brutally open about his brutality, who was obvious and crass enough about it so that even people as de-sensitized as we are finally figured him out.

Of course, we will not be able to move on until the returns in the upcoming primaries have produced the requisite rout. Assuming the Trump roasted is roasted, and we’re just waiting for the thermometer to verify, one theme that should not be lost along the way is one that occurred to me as more a never-Trumpish hope than any kind of prediction several weeks ago, around the time it became clear, much to my own surprise, that Cruz had won the process of elimination for logical Republican choice. Without using Trump as a battering ram against “establishment” resistance, further-right Cruz would never have been able to present himself as the authentic “unity” candidate of an in some respects expanded Republican coalition. He had always hoped to becomes the inheritor of Trump’s constituency.

Like all of the rest of us, including Trump and his voters, Cruz and his team may have underestimated how long it would take for the tectonic shift in the sub-structure of the race to occur. They likely hoped to depend on nominally “evangelical” voters to carry them through the first part of the primary, and did not fully recognize how much they needed the terror of Trump to drive the rest of the party into Cruz’s arms. Still, their theory of the race seems to be holding.

Its completion would not just be the nomination, would be the smooth integration of Trump voters – the heirs of the Reagan Democrats – into a general election majority. A few months ago the idea of Ted Cruz as Republican mainstream candidate would have seemed even more unlikely, but before we move on to a doubly premature handicapping of Cruz v Clinton General Election, we should give Cruz and his team due credit for a brilliantly run campaign – and even if something goes awry for them between now and July in Cleveland. They should not even have gotten this far.


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2 comments on “If the Trump Roast Is Done, Give the Crucians Some Credit

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  1. I also think Trump is fading, even if he has made fools of pundits and prophets in the past. It is probably a mix of people realizing that they really don’t want a man like him to be president and getting bored of the whole thing.

    Unless he tops himself with something even more outlandish. Then he is back on top, right?

    • Unless he tops himself with something even more outlandish. Then he is back on top, right?

      I don’t think so. “Topping” what he’s done the last week – something like a global assault on everything a Republican or any candidate in his position ought to be doing – it would have to involve some kind of felony, atrocity, or expression of sheer babbling insanity… Maybe a full frontal assault on his own most loyal supporters… At some point you reach the far end of the keyboard and there just aren’t any lower notes to play… So it’s a question of whether people like the theme enough to hear another set of variations in the same range. We’re assuming that the reason he needs to get even lower is that people are in fact (finally) getting tired of the song.

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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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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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