Politics & Policy

The Nine Lives of Donald J. Trump

Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Erie, Pa., August 12, 2016. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)
Whatever his faults, a Trump victory is preferable for the Republic.

Seasoned Republican political handlers serially attack Donald Trump and his campaign as amateurish, incompetent, and incoherent. The media somehow outdid their propaganda work for Barack Obama and have signed on as unapologetic auxiliaries to the Hillary Clinton campaign — and openly brag that, in Trump’s case, the duty of a journalist is to be biased. We have devolved to the point that a Harvard Law professor teases about unethically releasing his old confidential notes of his lawyer/client relationship with Trump.

Conservative columnists and analysts are so turned off by Trump that they resort to sophisticated metaphors to express their distaste — like “abortion,” “ape,” “bastard,” “bitch,” “cancer,” “caudillo,” “dog crap,” “filth,” “idiot,” “ignoramus,” and “moron.” Some of them variously talk of putting a bullet through his head given that he resembles, or is worse than, Caesar, Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin. Derangement Syndrome is a more apt clinical diagnosis for the Right’s hatred of Trump than it was for the Left’s loathing of Bush. Had such venom been directed at leftists or minorities, the commentators likely would have lost their venues.

Trump’s political obituary over the last 14 months has been rewritten about every three weeks. During the primaries, each time he won a state we were told that that victory was his last. Now, in the general-election campaign, his crude ego is supposedly driving the Republican ticket into oblivion. The media have discovered that what gets Trump’s goat is not denouncing his coarseness, but lampooning his lack of cash and poor polling: broke and being a loser is supposedly far worse for Trump’s ego than being obnoxious and cruel. So far, he is behind in most of the polls most of the time.

But not so fast!

Mysteriously, each time he hits rock bottom, Trump — even before his recent “pivot” — begins a two-week chrysalis cycle of inching back in the polls to within 2 or 3 points of Clinton. Apparently Trump represents something well beyond Trump per se. He appears to be a vessel of, rather than a catalyst for, popular furor at “elites” — not so much the rich, but the media/political/academic/celebrity global establishment that derides the ethos of the middle class as backward and regressive, mostly as a means for enjoying their own apartheid status and sense of exalted moral self, without guilt over their generational influence and privilege.

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Given the surprise of Brexit and Trump’s unexpected dominance of the primaries, pollsters seem to fear that his populist support is underreported by 2 or 3 percentage points. Some voters who do not openly profess that they plan to vote for Trump might do just that in the privacy of the polling booth — even as they might later deny that fact to others.

His latest pivot may be too late, but it certainly hit the right notes by presenting his populist themes — unwise trade deals, defense cuts, inner-city violence, attacks against police, illegal immigration, the war on coal, big-government regulations, and boutique environmentalism — as symptomatic of elite neglect not just of the white working class but of minorities as well, upon whom liberal policy falls most heavily. By curbing his personal invective and focusing on Obama’s incompetence and Clinton’s corruption, Trump may succeed in allowing 4 or 5 percent of the missing Republicans and independents to return and vote for him without incurring social disdain.

The news cycle favors any outsider — certainly including Trump.

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About every three weeks, terrorists butcher innocents in one or another Western country, usually screaming “Allahu Akbar” during their victims’ death throes. These terrorists have often been watched but otherwise left alone by intelligence agencies. Liberal pieties follow, along with warnings to the public about their prejudices, rather than admonitions to radical Islamists to stop their killing.

The ensuing public backlash does not mesh with the Obama–Clinton narrative that the killings were mere workplace violence, a generic form of “violent extremism,” or had “nothing to do with Islam.” Like Jimmy Carter, with his infamous inability to frame the Iranian hostage crisis, so too the latest manifestation of Hillary Clinton is simply unable to identify the origin, nature, and extent of the terrorist threat — much less offer a solution.

When the president upgrades the ISIS threat from a jayvee classification to something analogous to a fall in the bathroom, the public is not reassured that his former secretary of state understands radical Islamic terrorism.

In the same vein, with 11 million illegal aliens in the U.S., almost daily we hear a news report of yet another illegal-alien felony, or a new sanctuary city, or an effort by the “undocumented” to get the vote out — none of which enhances open-borders Hillary.

#share#Many of us have been saying for a year now that the last six months of the Obama administration will likely be the most dangerous interlude since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 or the Carter meltdown of 1980. Restive aggressors abroad have long concluded that Obama is conflicted about American morality, power, and responsibility. After his faux deadlines, redlines, and step-over lines, his apologies, his mythographical speeches, and his deer-in-the-headlights reactions to overseas challenges, he appears to foreign opportunists to be indifferent to the consequences of American laxity and lead-from-behind withdrawal.

Putin is now massing troops near Ukraine. Iran is absorbing Iraq and Syria. China has carved out a thalassocracy in the South China Sea. Tensions will only rise in these areas in the next 90 days, to the point of either outright war or more insidious and humiliating withdrawals from U.S. interests and allies. Either scenario favors Trump’s Jacksonian bluster.

RELATED: Revenge of the Rulebook

When a black police officer in Milwaukee fatally shoots a fleeing armed suspect — who had a lengthy arrest record and had turned to fire with his stolen automatic pistol — and anti-police riots follow, then it is hard to conceive under what conditions of legitimate police self defense that riots would not ensue. While there is plenty of public sympathy for refocusing on the general conditions in the inner city that may foster a high crime rate, there is none for focusing on their riotous manifestations.

After “hands up, don’t shoot” in Ferguson, the police acquittals in Baltimore, and now Milwaukee, the inevitable next riot will further hurt Hillary Clinton, who has mortgaged her campaign soul to Obama’s electoral calculus of 2008/2012. Meanwhile the daily carnage in Obama’s hometown of Chicago continues, out of sight and out of mind to the Democratic party.

Hillary Clinton has lied about her e-mails, her personal server, and the supposed firewall between her and the Clinton Foundation. She has lied about almost every detail of her tenure as secretary of state, from the killings in Benghazi to her knowledge of sending and receiving classified material. We are back to the cattle-future lying of 1979, when  Hillary was said to have had a 31-trillion-to-one chance of telling the truth about her hundred-fold profit.

In his peculiar way, Trump is able to work the teleprompter as effectively as Obama, and when disciplined is far better in unscripted repartee.

The problem with chronic lying is that finally the liar reaches a combustible state, one in which she cannot lie any more without contradicting a particular prior lie and yet cannot tell the truth without contradicting all prior lies. To keep them straight, one needs an amoral photographic memory. Hillary Clinton has the requisite shamelessness, but (unlike Bill) not the animal cunning to pull off such serial prevarication. In her latest fabrication that has begrudgingly come to light, Hillary had blamed Colin Powell (who never set up a private server as secretary of state) as the supposed felonious model that prompted her to break the law.

So expect more lies about hacked e-mail from the Clinton Foundation, Hillary’s deleted e-mail accounts, the DNC records, or some as yet unknown private communication about every 48 hours until November. If Trump’s fantasies are the bluster, narcissism, and adolescence of a real-estate and show-biz wheeler-dealer, Clinton’s lies are the steely-eyed and deliberate work of a long-time sociopathic prevaricator who destroys all those around her who weave the webs of her deceit.

Barack Obama is not necessarily a plus for Clinton. The president does well in the polls while he is off golfing with celebrities and sports stars, and is thus not heard or seen much in the world outside Martha’s Vineyard — the world in which coffins float about in flood-ravaged Louisiana, the Putin military build-up near Ukraine continues, or the Obamacare disaster grows. But whenever Obama reemerges to campaign for Hillary, he inevitably winds up in his characteristic condescending rambles and rants — the most recent his ridiculous lying about the Iranian ransom/“leverage” payment.

RELATED: Is This Election Trump vs. Hillary or Trump vs. the Media?

Clinton will win the election if she (and Trump’s own alter ego) can continue to convince the public that Trump is dangerous, repulsive, and unfit to a degree not seen before in politics — and thus every new day is devoted to Trump’s mouth and not Hillary’s high crimes and misdemeanors. But if Trump can pivot to focus on policy, about which he sometimes proves to be a skilled speaker and clever antagonist, then media attention will shift from Trump to the issues and the daily news. And all that fare is innately damaging to Hillary.

Trump has two enemies: money and Trump himself. In his peculiar way, Trump is able to work the teleprompter as effectively as Obama, and when disciplined is far better in unscripted repartee. All that explains why Trump has not yet quite killed Trump off, and why in any given ten-day recovery period he has the potential to creep within 2 or 3 points of Hillary, which this year may mean a dead-even race.

Yet Trump so far can get close to Clinton, but not 3 to 4 points ahead. To do that would require continued zeal, but also a complete end to his personal invective against irrelevant third parties — and an ability to raise a lot of money quickly and get his message out in a multimedia campaign.

RELATED: Inside Trump’s Conquest of America’s Most Conservative Districts

Trump will also have to show reluctant conservative big-money donors that he is serious about the presidency, perhaps with the dramatic gesture of selling off a building or two to infuse his campaign with millions of dollars of good-faith money. That signal might be the sort of financial sacrifice that would encourage traditional donors to give to a common effort and cease talk that Trump was never seriously in the race before being surprised by his unexpected resonance. If he can pick up an additional 4 to 5 percent of Republicans, or win a quarter of the Latino vote, or 10 percent of the black vote, he likely will win the election — big ifs, of course.

For now, openly siding with Trump is still not “done” in the New York–Washington corridor. But if Trump were to pull even and stay that way for a week, and curb his bombast, he might be able to assemble a team of advisors and possible cabinet members whom he could reference in the matter of possible Supreme Court picks, lending further legitimacy to his candidacy.

There is a herd-like mentality in Washington and New York, where the gospel is not professed politics, but unspoken allegiance to a perceived winner. Momentum is the deity. If Trump were to creep out ahead, one should not be surprised about the resulting silence in the Never Trump camp, or about those who would suddenly “be willing” to join a Team Trump. Epithets like “ape” and “Hitler” would mysteriously disappear. For those worried about a satanic President Trump, they should at least concede that Republican elites sign letters of dissent against their own nominee, whom the media seek to destroy at every turn; in contrast, there will be no Democratic establishment cries of outrage over Hillary Clinton’s past and future crimes and sins — and the media will abet, not censure, her excesses.

#related#What is forgotten in the Trump pessimism is that even with less than three months until Election Day, the Republican nominee — after the worst imaginable self-inflicted wounds, and with a complete absence of serious fundraising, an ad campaign, or a ground game — still is within striking distance of winning the election. If he were to do so, for the first time in a generation, the Republican party would likely control both houses of Congress, the presidency, and the future of the Supreme Court — with a public on record in support of radical change and without need to pacify its old establishment. Certainly, an attorney general like Rudy Giuliani would be preferable to Loretta Lynch, just as a John Bolton at State would not run the department in the fashion that Clinton herself did during Obama’s first term.

Such is the unrelenting popular furor at political correctness, the political and media aristocracy, the Obama record, and the immorality of Hillary Clinton that a candidate with no political experience, little campaign cash, and serious character problems may overturn a century of conventional wisdom. The choice of winning or losing the election is now mostly Trump’s own.

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.

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