Jonathan Chait’s new explanation for the rise of Donald Trump – or for the failure of analysts to predict it1 – is appealingly simple:
Here’s the factor I think everybody missed: The Republican Party turns out to be filled with idiots. Far more of them than anybody expected.
Chait concedes that to say as much is “gauche,” but stands by the argument to the end:
As low as my estimation of the intelligence of the Republican electorate may be, I did not think enough of them would be dumb enough to buy his act. And, yes, I do believe that to watch Donald Trump and see a qualified and plausible president, you probably have some kind of mental shortcoming. As many fellow Republicans have pointed out, Donald Trump is a con man. What I failed to realize — and, I believe, what so many others failed to realize, though they have reasons not to say so — is just how easily so many Republicans are duped.
Some observers may feel more comfortable attributing the capture by Donald J. Trump of the Republican Party nomination to his voters’ mental rather than moral deficiencies. We often view mental defect as exculpatory, and for that reason I believe that Chait’s impolite argument, whatever its other flaws, would be too easy on Trump voters, at least if one views their choice to be not merely idiotic, but dangerous, and not merely dangerous but morally suspect. It is only Chait’s presumption that Trump’s voters see in Trump a “qualified and plausible president,” or consider that issue to be paramount. Trumpism has a more radical implication, usually put under the heading of “anti-establishment” or “outsider” preference: of the impossibility at this time, in these days, of any qualified and plausible presidency at all, perhaps regardless of the personal make-up of the candidate or nominee. Perhaps mistakenly, perhaps unacceptably, perhaps inconsistently in their own minds, they would rather, as per the cliché, “shake things up” than elect a competent head of (this) state and (this) government. They are not putting a man forward to take over the office of the presidency. They are throwing a human stink-bomb at it – or the biggest best most unbelievable beautiful stink bomb ever at whatever might plausibly qualify a president for support in the eyes of Jonathan Chait.
In that sense they, or some of them, or some possibly important number of them, or many of them most of the time, are not being stupid about expressing what they want to express and getting done they want to get done.