Politics & Policy

Call the Bluff of the Trump True Believers

(Tom Pennington/Getty)

If the GOP is breaking apart over differences on issues, why is it altogether impossible for the warring factions to reach some accommodation to save the party?

Is it truly unthinkable that Donald Trump could sit down with Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich, joined by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, and, with the help of a few bottles of fine Kentucky bourbon (perhaps provided by Mitch McConnell), work something out for their mutual benefit?

The obvious answer to such questions is that the current divisions have little or nothing to do with issues, or with the popular notion of some snooty “establishment” looking with contempt at the GOP’s long-suffering base.

The divisions are about one man, a singular and profoundly polarizing personality. You can compromise over issues, or address grievances from the party’s rank-and-file to its feeble and teetering hierarchy. But you can’t split the difference over contrasting attitudes toward an egomaniacal Bonapartist whose followers believe that he, and he alone, possesses the magical power to “make America great again” and whose critics believe, with equal fervor, that his reckless, demagogic style, dubious character, and authoritarian tendencies render him altogether unfit for service in the nation’s highest office.

Two thought experiments make the matter incontestably clear.

Imagine that the soon-to-be-70-year-old candidate (who reaches that milestone on June 14) shows the vulnerability that actuarial tables would predict for him and suffers some sort of debilitating health crisis before the convention. What replacement candidate would be acceptable? If his candidacy truly were about issues, attitudes, or the anxieties and the resentments of one group of voters or another, there surely would be some designated heir who could fill even Trumps yuuge shoes.

There isn’t, because this entire fight isn’t about policy or populism, it’s about personality — nothing more, and nothing less.

#share#Another thought experiment should reinforce the point. What if all the poohbahs of the dreaded establishment — Romney, John McCain, Jeb Bush, Reince Priebus, even John Boehner for good measure — were to offer some sort of formal terms of surrender to the pitchforks-and- torches brigades? They could agree to endorse a candidate who embraced every single element of Trumpism, committing himself to each goal and program elucidated on the Trump website, just as long as that candidate was someone less divisive and polarizing than Donald J. Trump himself. They might even offer to allow Mr. Trump to select new leadership for the Republican National Committee. I have little doubt that the party apparatchiks would readily sign on to such a deal if they avoided the sure and shattering defeat that would flow from a Trump nomination.

By accepting or proposing this sort of arrangement, party leaders could prove that their opposition to Trump’s nomination for president isn’t based on a compulsion to preserve their own power (it would be gone under the suggested deal) or even to maintain a moderate, pragmatic policy approach that avatars of anger so ferociously decry.

But such a party-saving compromise is, alas, unthinkable, because any replacement to the Donald would lack his messianic, legendary abilities to make great trade deals, bomb the s**t out of ISIS, restore the phrase “Merry Christmas” to our national lexicon (whatever happened to his Starbucks boycott?), deport or vaporize all 11 million illegals, and win so often for the USA that we’d grow sick of winning.

People who believe in Trump will never consider a substitute, no matter how similar in policy positions, rhetoric, or business experience, because support for their champion has nothing to do with policy positions, rhetoric, or business success.

It is, at its core, personal and emotional — like the backing for other authoritarian poseurs who have at times managed to convince multitudes that they and they alone possessed the supernatural abilities to achieve or restore national greatness. For all such cult-of-personality figures (the reader can supply his own names from the Evil Dictators Hall of Shame) ideology is only a tool, not a purpose. Policy prescriptions like a “Great Leap Forward” and a “Cultural Revolution” are merely means to an end, and that end is absolute power, not some economic or even cultural shift.

If I am wrong in this line of reasoning, then Mr. Trump and his true believers have an excellent chance to prove it. If they really do want to “Make America Great Again” by applying his distinctive approach to our national challenges, he can do so by simply stepping out of the way — anointing an acolyte to pursue and complete his great work. He could ensure the realization of all his grand transformational goals by preparing a new “Covenant With America” that contained Ten commandments (it worked well for God, who was only slightly less powerful and perfect than Mr. Trump) to which his chosen substitute could publicly pledge adherence. He might even agree to serve his country and the new regime he installed by becoming the nation’s powerful re-negotiator in all trade deals or, even better, accept a post as Deportation Czar, taking charge of his own visionary scheme to implement the greatest forced migration in human history.

#related#The chief objection to Trump’s nomination has always been this public figure’s low character, unstable temperament, and indisputable venality. One need only review Mitt Romney’s uncharacteristically passionate speech: Nearly all of it centers on Mr. Trump’s personality, not his policies (or lack thereof).

We face at the moment a truly horrifying situation in which the party and, ultimately, the nation have been polarized over a single, simple question on which there can be no middle ground: Should Donald J. Trump be installed as the next president, the commander-in-chief, and the leader of the free world? 

His followers will accept no substitute. His opponents will accept almost any substitute. The crisis we face is more appropriate to a monarchy, or a dictatorship, than to a democratic republic.

And on the question of maintaining the republican — and Republican — norms that have been traduced by a reckless demagogue, there can be, alas, no compromise.

— Michael Medved hosts a daily radio talk show heard on more than 300 stations across the country.

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