For a year now, there’s been a myth among Republicans: the Legend of Trump.
It goes something like this. Once upon a time, there was an unbeatable candidate, a world-famous politician whose husband had been president, who received unquestioning loyalty from the media. Then came the Dragonslayer: a real-estate mogul with a toilet of gold and a tongue of iron, who cut the unconquerable evil queen down to size and seized the throne from her. The laws of political gravity simply didn’t apply to him: He could utter any vulgarity, brazen through any scandal, batter down any media infrastructure. And if Republicans followed him — if they lit their torches from his — they too could slay dragons.
Now, it’s quite possible that Donald Trump was the only Republican who could have defeated Hillary Clinton —other Republicans might have tried to take the high ground with a candidate significantly dirtier than the local garbage dump. Trump has no tact and no compunction, so he was always willing to drag her off her high horse. But Trump truly won not because he was a stellar candidate — far from it — but because Hillary Clinton was an awful candidate. And this means not only that his dragonslaying isn’t duplicable, but also that other candidates with similarly shady backgrounds who attempt to imitate him will end up failing dramatically.
In other words, the laws of political gravity still apply.
We learned that last night in Alabama, where Roy Moore lost an unlosable Senate race in a state that just three years ago went 97 percent for an unopposed Senator Jeff Sessions, who gave up his seat to become Trump’s much-maligned attorney general. Moore ran the worst campaign in recent memory, and he lost because of it. Republicans weren’t going to show up in droves to vote for a man credibly accused of child molestation, a fellow who deployed his campaign spokespeople to explain that Muslims can’t sit in Congress and that homosexuals ought to wind up in prison.
Moore was already in a dogfight before the sexual-abuse allegations. And he attempted to Trump his way out of those allegations: He stonewalled, he insisted it was all a media witch hunt, he shouted “establishment” over and over. He even called in the Dragonslayer himself, who tweeted from on high and rallied on the Alabama border. And Moore lost.
Trumpism, it turns out, isn’t a philosophy. It’s just a man who ran and won against the most unpalatable candidate in modern American history. That’s an incredible accomplishment. It’s not a strategy.
Yet the wandering minstrels will continue to sing the Legend of Trump for donors near and far. They’ll continue to suggest that Trumpism is a sword in a stone, ready to be plucked up and used against the “establishment” by any person brave enough to wield it. They’ll never define the “establishment” — they’ll ignore that Trump’s agenda will now be stymied thanks to their own brave endorsement of an “anti-establishment” candidate. They’ll blame Mitch McConnell for their own support of a wildly execrable candidate. They’ll never define “nationalist populism”; they’ll just state that anyone who opposes it opposes “the people.”
Donors would be fools to trust Bannon.
Leading them will be Breitbart’s Steve Bannon, a man who made Moore his avatar — a man who desperately wishes for fame and power, but can achieve it only on the back of others’ accomplishments. The only way he can preserve any impression of power is to blame others for his own shortcomings, and to preserve the Legend. But the Legend died in Alabama if it hadn’t already died in Virginia. Donors would be fools to trust Bannon.
Which isn’t to say they won’t. Many Republicans are still invested in the Legend of Trump. To acknowledge reality — to state simply that Trump did something amazing, but that he also had the help of a horrifying Democrat, and to recognize openly that Republicans will have to do better if they hope to win in the future — is uncomfortable. Better to pretend that Republicans have no serious problem outside of a few virtue-signaling cucks who wouldn’t turn out to vote for a guy who allegedly cruises the food court for dates.
Democrats had a similar legend until 2016: the Legend of Barack and Hillary. The Tea Party slew it long before Democrats were willing to acknowledge its death; 2016 was the final blow to the leftist mythology. Legends in politics never fade away: They die violent deaths. Republicans can learn their lesson now or they can take their lumps later.