Any Republican has a difficult pathway to the presidency. On the electoral map, expanding blue blobs in coastal and big-city America swamp the conservative geographical sea of red. Big-electoral-vote states such as California, Illinois, New York, and New Jersey are utterly lost before the campaign even begins. The media have devolved into a weird Ministry of Truth. News seems defined now as what information is necessary to release to arrive at correct views.
In recent elections, centrists, like John McCain and Mitt Romney – once found useful by the media when running against more-conservative Republicans — were reinvented as caricatures of Potterville scoundrels right out of a Frank Capra movie.
When the media got through with a good man like McCain, he was left an adulterous, confused septuagenarian, unsure of how many mansions he owned, and a likely closeted bigot. Another gentleman like Romney was reduced to a comic-book Ri¢hie Ri¢h, who owned an elevator, never talked to his garbage man, hazed innocents in prep school, and tortured his dog on the roof of his car. If it were a choice between shouting down debate moderator Candy Crowley and shaming her unprofessionalism, or allowing her to hijack the debate, Romney in Ajaxian style (“nobly live, or nobly die”) chose the decorous path of dignified abdication.
In contrast, we were to believe Obama’s adolescent faux Greek columns, hokey “lowering the seas and cooling the planet,” vero possumus seal on his podium as president-elect, and 57 states were Lincolnesque.
Why would 2016 not end up again in losing nobly? Would once again campaigning under the Marquess of Queensberry rules win Republicans a Munich reprieve?
The Orangeman Cometh
In such a hysterical landscape, it was possible that no traditional Republican in 2016 was likely to win, even against a flawed candidate like Hillary Clinton, who emerged wounded from a bruising primary win over aged socialist Bernie Sanders.
Then came along the Trump, the seducer of the Right when the Republican establishment was busy early on coronating Jeb Bush. After the cuckolded front-runners imploded, we all assumed that Trump’s successful primary victories — oddly predicated on avoidance of a ground game, internal polling, ad campaigns, sophisticated fundraising, and a sea of consultants and handlers — were hardly applicable to Clinton, Inc. She surely would bury him under a sea of cash, consultants, and sheer manpower.
That Trump was an amateur, a cad, his own worst enemy, cynically leveraging a new business or brand, and at any time could say anything was supposedly confirmation of Hillary’s inevitable victory. Her winning paradigm was seen as simply anti-Trump rather than pro-Hillary: light campaigning to conserve her disguised fragile health, while giving full media attention to allow Trump to elucidate his fully obnoxious self. Her campaign was to be a series of self-important selfies, each more flattering to the beholder but otherwise of no interest to her reluctant supporters.
For insurance, Clinton would enlist the bipartisan highbrow Washington establishment to close ranks, with their habitual tsk-tsking of Trump in a nuanced historical context — “Hitler,” “Stalin,” “Mussolini,” “brown shirt,” etc.
For all Hillary’s hundreds of millions of corporate dollars and legions of Clinton Foundation strategists, she could never quite shake Trump, who at 70 seemed more like a frenzied 55.
Hillary would rely on the old Obama team of progressive hit men in the public-employee unions, the news ministries, the pajama-boy bloggers, the race industry, and the open-borders lobbies to brand Trump supporters as racist, sexist, misogynist, Islamophobic, nativist, homophobic. The shades of Obama’s old white reprehensible “Clingers” would spring back to life as “The Deplorables.”
Yet for all Hillary’s hundreds of millions of corporate dollars and legions of Clinton Foundation strategists, she could never quite shake Trump, who at 70 seemed more like a frenzied 55. Trump at his worst was never put away by Hillary at her best, and he has stayed within six to eight points for most of his awful August and is now nipping her heels as October nears.
Fracking Populist Fury
Trump’s hare-and-tortoise strategy, his mishmash politics, reinventions, mastery of free publicity, and El Jefe celebrity had always offered him an outside chance of winning. But he is most aided by the daily news cycle that cannot be quite contorted to favor Hillary Clinton. Last weekend, in a 48-hour cycle, there were “Allahu akbar” attacks in Minneapolis and New York, pipe-bombings in Manhattan and New Jersey, and shootings of police in Philadelphia — the sort of violence that the public feels is not addressed by “workplace violence” and “hands up, don’t shoot” pandering.
Almost daily we read of these disasters that channel Trump’s Jacksonian populism, from closed Ford Motor plants moving to Mexico to yet another innocent killed by an illegal alien to more crowds flowing unimpeded across the border. Having Vicente Fox and Jorge Ramos spew televised animus at you is about as much a downside as Cher’s threats to leave the U.S. in 2016 or the plagiarist Fareed Zakaria’s frowns. When Barack Obama is reduced to begging African-American audiences, on the basis of racial solidarity, to vote for Hillary to preserve his ego and legacy, something is up.
All that news buzz is sandwiched by almost hourly reports of hacked e-mails, Clinton Foundation scandals, and violations of federal protocols — drip, drip, drip disclosures with more promised on the horizon. Some wondered, Why did not Hillary come clean and end the psychodramas? But that is like asking blue jays to become songbirds.
Hubris does finally earn nemesis — and at the most disastrous Oedipal moment. This time around, even the media is no defense against an entirely new 21st-century hydra. Cyber serpents have no ideologies other than anarchist ruin. Hackers give Hillary no more exemption, due to her professed progressivism, than they would any other sucker foolish enough to be famous, sloppy in electronic communications, and self-righteous, sanctimonious, and slippery. Ask the ambidextrous and once iconic Colin Powell.
Trump’s electoral calculus was easy to fathom. He needed to win as many independents as Romney, enthuse some new Reagan Democrats to return to politics, keep steady the Republican establishment, and win at least as much of the Latino and black vote as had the underperforming McCain and Romney — all to win seven or eight swing states. He planned to do that, in addition to not stepping on IEDs, through the simple enough strategy of an outraged outsider not nibbling, but blasting away, at political correctness, reminding audiences that he was not a traditional conservative, but certainly more conservative than Hillary, and a roguish celebrity billionaire with a propensity to talk with, not down to, the lower middle classes.
That the establishment was repulsed by his carroty look, his past scheming, his Queens-accented bombast, and his nationalist policies only made him seem more authentic to his supporters, old and possibly new as well. The more Trump grew unnaturally calmer, he became somewhat presentable, and the more he did, the more a flummoxed Hillary returned to her natural shrillness — and likewise became less viable.
By late September, Trump had slowly mastered the electoral formula, in part due to his new campaign staff — ridiculed as amateurs by the handler establishment but who were versed in pop culture that may have made establishment politics this year obsolete. In good Obama (the erstwhile opponent of gay marriage and big deficits) and Clinton (the former free trader and closed-borders advocate) style, Trump became a version of the comic-book character The Flash: He left his critics far behind to shoot at empty silhouettes while he zoomed miles away to pause in his new incarnation.
Never in My Name?
The only missing tessera in Trump’s mosaic is the Republican establishment, or rather the 10 percent or so of them whose opposition might resonate enough to cost Trump 1–2 percent in one or two key states and spell his defeat. Some NeverTrump critics would prefer a Trump electoral disaster that still could redeem their warnings that he would destroy the Republican party; barring that, increasingly many would at least settle to be disliked, but controversial, spoilers in a 1–2 percent loss to Hillary rather than irrelevant in a Trump win.
To be fair, NeverTrump’s logic is that Trump’s past indiscretions and lack of ethics, his present opportunistic populist rather than conservative message, and the Sarah Palin nature of some of his supporters (whom I think Hillary clumsily referenced as the “deplorables” and whom Colin Powell huffed off as “poor white folks”) make him either too reckless to be commander-in-chief or too liberal to be endorsed by conservatives — or too gauche to admit supporting in reasoned circles.
But the proper question is a reductionist “compared to what?” NeverTrumpers assume that the latest insincerely packaged Trump is less conservative than the latest incarnation of an insincere Clinton on matters of border enforcement, military spending, tax and regulation reform, abortion, school choice, and cabinet and Supreme Court appointments. That is simply not a sustainable proposition.
Is Trump uncooked all that much more odious than the sautéed orneriness of the present incumbent, who has variously insulted the Special Olympics, racially stereotyped at will, resorted to braggadocio laced with violent rhetoric, racially hyped ongoing criminal trials, serially lied about Obamacare and Benghazi, ridiculed the grandmother who scrimped to send him to a private prep school, oversaw government corruption from the IRS to the VA to the GSA, and has grown the national debt in a fashion never before envisioned? Trump on occasion did not recognize the “nuclear triad,” but then he probably does not say “corpse men” either or believe we added 57 states.
Did the scandals and divisiveness of the last eight years ever prompt in 2012 a Democratic #NeverObama walkout or a 2016 progressive “not in my name” disowning of Obama? Are there 50 former Democratic foreign-policy veterans who cannot stomach Hillary’s prevarications and what she has done to national security, and therefore will sign a letter of principled non-support? Did socialist idealist and self-appointed ethicist Bernie Sanders play a Ted Cruz, John Kasich, or Jeb Bush, and plead that Hillary’s Wall Street and pay-for-play grifting was so antithetical to his share-the-wealth fantasies that he would stay home?
Replying in kind to a Gold Star Muslim family or attacking a Mexican-American judge who is a member of a La Raza legal group is, of course, stupid and crass, but perhaps not as stupid as Hillary, before a Manhattan crowd of millionaires, writing off a quarter of America as deplorable, not American, and reprobate racists and bigots.
As for Trump’s bombast, I wish there was an accepted and consistent standard of political discourse by which to censure his past insensitiveness and worse, but there has not been one for some time. Examine, for example, the level of racial invective used in the past by Hillary Clinton (“working, hard-working Americans, white Americans”), Harry Reid (“light-skinned African American with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one”), Joe Biden (“first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy”), or Barack Obama (his own grandmother became a “typical white person”), and it’s hard to make the argument that Trump’s vocabulary marks a new low, especially given that few if any liberals bothered much about the racist tripe of their own. Trump so far has not appeared in linguistic blackface to patronize and mock the intelligence of an African-American audience with a 30-second, manufactured, and bad Southern accent in the manner of Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.
Similarly, in the old days, any candidates who met with the press, held news conferences, were easily cross-examined, gave out their blood tests and EKG results (did Obama or Hillary?), had small staffs and few TV ads, raised little outside money, spoke extemporaneously, and were not prepped by legions of handlers were considered “different” in the sense that they were welcomed mavericks to an otherwise scripted campaign season. In a bankrupt Washington world in which “wise man” Colin Powell writes to a multimillionaire donor and lobbyist partner and other insiders about Bill Clinton “d***ing bimbos,” flashes the elite race card, namedrops the Hamptons and the Bohemian Grove, whines that Hillary’s greed drove down his own excessive speaking fees, unkindly attacks his own former promoters, and exchanges e-mail inane intimacies with a former foreign diplomatic official, the supposedly misogynist Trump is the first Republican nominee to entrust his party’s fate to a female campaign manager and a female African-American national spokesperson.
An Overdue Reckoning
Trump’s ball-and-chain flail, such as it can be fathomed, is in large part overdue. The old Wall Street Journal adherence to open borders was not so conservative — at least not for those on the front lines of illegal immigration and without the means to navigate around the concrete ramifications of the open-borders ideologies of apartheid elites. How conservative was a definition of free trade that energized European Union subsidies on agriculture, tariffs on American imports into Japan, Chinese cheating or peddling toxic products, or general dumping into the United States? For two decades, farmers and small businesses have been wiped out in rural America; that destruction may have been “creative,” but it certainly was not because the farmers and business owners were stupid, lazy, or uncompetitive. By this late date, for millions, wild and often unpredictable populist venting became preferable to being sent to the library to be enlightened by Adam Smith or Edmund Burke.
The Wall Street Journal adherence to open borders was not so conservative — at least not for those on the front lines of illegal immigration and without the means to navigate around the concrete ramifications of the open-borders ideologies of apartheid elites.
Outsourcing and offshoring did not make the U.S more competitive, at least for most Americans outside of Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Boutique corporate multiculturalism was always driven by profits while undermining the rare American idea of e pluribus unum assimilation — as the canny multimillionaires like Colin Kaepernick and Beyoncé grasped. Long ago, an Ivy League brand ceased being synonymous with erudition or ethics — as Bill, Hillary, and Barack Obama showed. Defeated or retired “conservative” Republican grandees were just as likely as their liberal counterparts to profit from their government service in Washington to rake in lobbyist cash. So hoi polloi were about ready for anything — or rather everything.
In sum, if Trump’s D-11 bulldozer blade did not exist, it would have to be invented. He is Obama’s nemesis, Hillary’s worst nightmare, and a vampire’s mirror of the Republican establishment. Before November’s election, his next outburst or reinvention will once again sorely embarrass his supporters, but perhaps not to the degree that Clinton’s erudite callousness should repel her own.
In farming, I learned there is no good harvest, only each year one that’s 51 percent preferable to the alternative, which in 2016 is a likely 16-year Obama-Clinton hailstorm.
It may be discomforting for some conservatives to vote for the Republican party’s duly nominated candidate, but as this Manichean two-person race ends, it is now becoming suicidal not to.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Savior Generals.