Citizen Trump’s Path of Least Resistance to a Classy Profitable Exit

Should Trump, facing unfavorable and deteriorating political prospects, seek to humiliate himself leading a fractured Republican Party to an “epic” defeat in November? Should he prefer to “do all he could to destroy Cruz and the GOP” – turning himself into a hated loser and maker of losers? How would either alternative profit him – or preserve and burnish his all-important brand – at all?

Rich Lowry is convinced that Trump, whether he loses at the RNC or in the Fall, is going to destroy the Republican Party in the process:

Events can always intervene, and Hillary Clinton certainly has her own weaknesses, but every objective indicator is that nominating Trump would mean a divided Republican party loses in the fall, perhaps badly, maybe even epically.

Probably the most favorable non-Trump scenario is that Ted Cruz beats him on a second ballot at a convention and has enough anti-establishment credibility to take the edge off the inevitable revolt of the Trump forces. But surely Trump would do all he could to destroy Cruz and the GOP in retribution for denying him the nomination.

As for that last part, however, what makes Lowry so “sure”? Though Trump has campaigned in a political suicide vest, threatening to take as many people with him as possible when he finally trips the trigger, why exactly should we believe the threat?

Maybe Lowry, after the events of the last year or so, is just primed to expect the worst…

We do not have to subscribe fully to oft-heard speculation that Trump has been seeking the right moment to exit all along – that he never thought he would get as far as he has gotten, that he knows he could not handle a real General Election campaign, and that he knows how ludicrously unqualified he is to be president – in order to see his conduct at least over the last week and arguably since before Super Tuesday if not since the beginning as simply un-serious.

That Trumpismo has gotten as far as it has would be an index of the weakness of our political culture and its institutions including but not limited to the Republican Party. The success of the fundamentally un-serious campaign equates with our collective un-seriousness. Trump has in this sense been able to functioned as Exhibit A in his own political argument: Things must really be bad for someone as bad as Trump to succeed, thereby justifying Trump: Political perpetual motion.

Yet as far gone as we are, we are not all the way gone. We are not quite ready for Emperor Trumpigula appointing his horse to run the Senate, or operating a national brothel employing Washington’s political spouses. As for Trump himself, suppose he is all or most of the things his adversaries think of him, or worse: Suppose, even, that he qualifies as a “stupid psychopath,” as Lowry’s colleague Kevin Williamson put it: Even-especially if Trump is truly as self-serving as Lowry says, and possibly even if he is pathological as Williamson asserts, the fundamental question before him would still remain what serves him and his interests as he understands them best. Or, even on Williamson’s polemically exaggerated terms, why should we presume that Trump is not just stupid but truly imbecilic, and not just a psychopath, but a simply and predictably self-destructive one?

Should a not quite completely insensately stupid, not quite entirely psychotic Trump, facing unfavorable and deteriorating political prospects, seek to humiliate himself leading a fractured Republican Party to an “epic” defeat in November? Should he prefer, as per Lowry’s “most favorable” scenario, to “do all he could to destroy Cruz and the GOP” – turning himself into a hated loser and maker of losers? How would either alternative profit him – or preserve and burnish his all-important brand – at all?

The path of least resistance, highest reward for Donald J Trump at this point would be to run “conservatively” for the rest of the primaries, and to continue going through the motions of being Trump – if only to ensure consolidation of his intra-party opposition – while gradually preparing himself and his followers to accept some other nominee. By July, if he showed some semblance of good will, good humor, and good sportsmanship, he would receive the party’s gratitude. One suspects that his prominent supporters, especially the major spokespeople and endorsers who hope for a future in Republican and conservative politics, would be deeply thankful.

If he preferred, he can could claim from the moment of decision to the end of time that the nomination was in some sense “stolen” from him, but the claim need not be taken any more seriously than he or anyone else takes any of the countless other nonsensical and self-serving things we all know he is prone to say. He might add that he gave the Republican Party and the country a chance at him, and they failed: He would not be the loser; he would already have far exceeded anyone’s expectations: He would have won: They or we would be the losers, because we rejected him. If the Republican nominee loses, he can write a book on the art of I-told-you-so.

The classiest and most profitable, winningest solution for Donald J Trump is magnanimous acceptance of a relatively close-run failure at the Republican Convention, complete with smiling walk-on for unity pictures, with encouragement to his supporters to follow suit. Afterward, he would be able to maintain out-sized political and cultural relevance, or some semblance of it, salvage and even restore and expand his brand, and return happily to civilian life – or even remain open to some kind of political appointment down the line. Why shouldn’t he? What about his character as we know it or his attitude toward “consistency” would preclude him from taking this version of the high road – proving all “the haters” wrong?

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3 comments on “Citizen Trump’s Path of Least Resistance to a Classy Profitable Exit

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  1. It may be that Trump cannot destroy the GOP, that Lowry has misplaced where his worry should go. The question seems to be, is the GOP, in Lenin’s words “ripe and rotten-ripe” for collapse. That is as he says, “It would be absurd to regard the whole question as one of personalities.”

    Of course plenty of commentary has focused on the roots and development of the current state of affairs – Goldwater, Atwater are among the frequently mentioned authors of these fluid dynamics, the “reap what you sow style” of punditry.

    So Trump may only be the messenger, able to neither destroy or, through huge acts magnanimousness, save the Party.

    • What is still to be undone?

      Was just having a Twitter discussion with one of NRO’s younger writers on just this subject (I strongly doubt he was aware of this post). Goes back to the 100 theories of Trump that are mostly versions of the same theory, from different angles: If the GOP (or we) weren’t so damaged, he wouldn’t have arisen to damage it (us) further, or only a party damaged to the point of unsalvageability could have ended up in this position of being damaged to the point of unsalvageability.

      Touched upon some related specifics, so I think I may recapitulate the convo from my side later.

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Noted & Quoted

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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