Thursday, February 18, 2016

Donald Trump is poised... win the South Carolina primary on Saturday and the Nevada caucuses next Tuesday. If so, he would be very well positioned for the SEC primaries on March 1 and Super Tuesday on March 15. By then Trump could be unstoppable. Crazy? I don't think so.

If you think I'm wrong, place a bet on Paddy Power on either Marco Rubio at 9/4 odds or Ted Cruz at 11/2 odds. I'll wait right here while you do.

Finished? Okay. Now consider this: If Trump wins the Republican nomination he has about a 50/50 chance of becoming president. (Those are my odds; Paddy Power has Hillary at 10/11 while the Donald is at 4/1.) As I see it, the country is essentially split evenly between Republicans and Democrats. If the economy continues to recover and there's no major terrorist/national security event and President Obama's approval ratings remain in the narrow range they've been in for the last seven years, then Hillary will be elected to Obama's "third" term. (Just like George H. W. Bush was elected to Reagan's "third" term.)

But . . . if any of those things change between now and November we could see Donald Trump getting sworn in as the nation's 45th president next January. (Are you shivering at the thought of how cold it is in January or the idea that Trump could actually be elected president?)

So let's all imagine a President Trump. (Stop shivering!) I read a couple of pieces recently by two of my favorite writers, Jonathan Chait and Ezra Klein, that offer different views of a Trump presidency.

In the first, "Why Liberals Should Support a Trump Republican Nomination," Mr. Chait argues that a liberal can "earnestly and patriotically support a Trump Republican nomination." One reason is that Trump may change the Republican Party for the better (all emphasis mine):

What has most horrified conservative activists about Trump’s rise is how little he or his supporters seem to care about their anti-government ideology. When presented with the candidate’s previous support for higher taxes on the rich or single-payer insurance, heresies of the highest order, Trump fans merely shrug. During this campaign, Trump has mostly conformed to party doctrine, but without much conviction. Trump does not mouth the rote conservative formulation that government is failing because it can’t work and that the solution is to cut it down to size. Instead, he says it is failing because it is run by idiots and that the solution is for it to instead be run by Trump. About half of Republicans favor higher taxes on the rich, a position that has zero representation among their party’s leaders. And those Republicans are the most likely to support Trump.

Trump’s candidacy represents, among other things, a revolt by the Republican proletariat against its master class. That is why National Review devoted a cover editorial and 22 columns to denouncing Trump as a heretic to the conservative movement. A Trump nomination might not actually cleave the GOP in two, but it could wreak havoc. If, like me, you think the Republican Party in its current incarnation needs to be burned to the ground and rebuilt anew, Trump is the only one holding a match. 

Chait wrote this before the debate last Saturday in which Trump also said:

...that invading Iraq was a disaster, that the country was misled into invading Iraq by the Bush administration, and that the claim that Bush kept the country safe from terrorism is ridiculous because 9/11 happened on his watch.

These are truths that the Republican Party must come to grips with before it can be taken seriously again.

Another reason not to fear the Donald:

If he does win, a Trump presidency would probably wind up doing less harm to the country than a Marco Rubio or a Cruz presidency. It might even, possibly, do some good.

He then goes on to compare Trump to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger:

Schwarzenegger’s loyalty to Republican doctrine was tissue-thin. He joined the GOP because he vaguely shared its veneration of wealth and success. But his sub-intellectualism, which initially made him so repellent, turned out to be an asset. When conventional Republican governance made him unpopular, he had no incentive to go down with the party ship. The only thing Schwarzenegger really craved was popularity. Running for office as an exercise in ego gratification may not be as good a thing as running as a serious candidate with good ideas, but it’s much better than running as a serious candidate with bad ideas.

The truly dangerous Republicans are the ones who believe their own dialogue. 

And I'm tempted to agree: Would a Trump presidency really be worse than a Cruz or Rubio presidency? After all, we know those two are ideologues. Maybe Trump would govern from the center. Is that so far-fetched?

Ezra Klein begs to differ. In "The rise of Donald Trump is a terrifying moment in American politics," Mr. Klein argues:

Trump is the most dangerous major candidate for president in memory. He pairs terrible ideas with an alarming temperament; he's a racist, a sexist, and a demagogue, but he's also a narcissist, a bully, and a dilettante. He lies so constantly and so fluently that it's hard to know if he even realizes he's lying. He delights in schoolyard taunts and luxuriates in backlash.

He's not a joke and he's not a clown. He's a man who could soon be making decisions of war and peace, who would decide which regulations are enforced and which are lifted, who would be responsible for nominating Supreme Court justices and representing America in the community of nations.

There is something scary in Donald Trump. We should fear his rise.

I have to admit I'm torn. Like Mr. Chait, I think the Donald is saying things that Republican bigwigs need to hear: free trade has been a mixed blessing, immigration reform is complicated, people want a strong safety net, lowering taxes on the rich hasn't necessarily helped anyone else, and the foreign policy of the neocons in the last Bush administration was nothing short of a disaster.

As Byron York noted recently before the New Hampshire primary:

In one of my first conversations at the Radisson, with two Republican activists, I asked a simple what's-up question about Trump. Both immediately responded in exactly the same way: "I don't know anybody who supports him." They're politically active and aware, but they said they have no contact in their daily lives with even a single person who supports their party's front-runner.

After that conversation, I began to ask everyone I met: Do you know anyone who supports Donald Trump? In more cases than not — actually, in nearly all the cases — the answer was no. I asked one woman Friday night, and she said she hadn't thought about it. I ran into her the next morning at breakfast, and she said, "That was a good question you asked me last night, and I've given it some thought." And no, she didn't know any Trump supporters.

And that's the problem: the Republican Party elites have truly lost touch with their base. The donor class needs a serious wake-up call. And Trump is delivering it.

And yet, as Mr. Klein points out, Trump's:

...temperament is so immature, his narcissism so clear, his political base so unique, his reactions so strange, that I honestly have no idea what he would do — or what he wouldn't do.

And that is scary. Because no matter how much "good" Trump may be doing for his party, he is clearly unqualified for the job. In the words of President Obama:

"I continue to believe Mr. Trump will not be president," Obama said while speaking at a press conference in Rancho Mirage, California. "And the reason is because I have a lot of faith in the American people."

Obama told reporters he believed Americans still see the presidency as "a serious job."

“It’s not hosting a talk show, or a reality show. It’s not promotion, it’s not marketing,” Obama said. “It’s hard and a lot of people count on us getting it right.”

I'll continue to "root" for Donald Trump to win the Republican nomination because I really believe the other candidates would be worse. But, hopefully, I'll never have to see him take the oath of office. It's really hard to imagine, isn't it?

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