Listen, Trump isn’t going to win the election. Sober experts, such as William Galston and Walter Russell Mead (each of whom I hope jumps into the presidential race), have given lots of compelling reasons why. Here’s my spin:
1. Demographics. Trump remains white-male-identity politics above all. White males — mainly those not in our cognitive elite — have lots of legitimate grievances. Their form of identity politics is the basis of huge faction in Republican primaries, but not nearly so much in November. There’s also the problem that Trump has nothing going on with voters under 30, and I think there’s not a chance in heck that they switch from Bernie to Donald in any significant numbers. (The story might be different among older and more working-class Sanders voters.) For the young, the choice is between two repulsive old people, but one flatters their identity-based claims for freedom a bit better, and making America great again moves them hardly at all. CORRECTION: I’ve been told that the latest ABC poll picks up on a huge millennial swing in Trump’s direction. Well, I admit I can’t explain it, and I haven’t meet any of these people. Someone explain it to me!
2. The economy. The indicators are ambiguously pretty good. Studies show that favors the party that now controls the presidency.
3. President Obama. He’s popular again. That’s doubtless partly because he’s a class act in comparison with Trump and Sanders. He could get reelected if the Constitution allowed. Again, the majority–if a narrow majority–of the country is not in a “keep the change” mood when it comes to the Democrats.
4. The campaign. Once again the Democratic candidate will have massive advantages when it comes to big data, organization on the ground, and all that. The difference here between Clinton and Trump will be far greater than that between Obama and Romney. And that latter was hugely significant in determining the outcome of the 2012 election. But Trump is an unconventional campaigner, you say! And his approach is winning this year over the more data-driven and rational and industrious campaigns. Consider how he humiliated the confident Cruz and the big-donors’ Bush. The way Donald defeated the donors and consultants is worthy of wonder. But the general election is much more about manipulation of the data–meaning being scientific about finding your people and pushing their buttons. When it comes to stuff like that, all Republicans have become amateurs in comparison to the big brains behind Obama and Clinton. Despite his recent success, we can’t forget that, in many respects, Donald is a lucky–if also inspired–amateur in comparison even to most Republicans.
5. Mainstream media. Every morning on the Today show, for instance, I see a meticulous deconstruction of any claim Trump makes about anything, displaying the massive inconsistencies in what he’s said over time. This approach so far has been gentle in comparison with what is to come. Hillary Clinton’s claims are pretty much accepted at face value. I have to admit this shameless disparity in treatment almost causes me to a bit sympathetic to Trump. Almost. It’s unlikely, of course, that the MSM can shake Trump’s base, but it will be plenty effective in keeping it from expanding all that much. The message is that no respectable person can for vote Trump. Well, you say, the MSM has always pushed that message when it comes to Republicans. This time they just have a lot more to work with.
6. The debates. It remains the case the Trump knows next to nothing. Clinton knows a lot. She hasn’t been great against Bernie, but she’s been very competent. A hugely prepared Clinton will decimate Trump. He really is an astonishingly ignorant blowhard, and that was very clear the couple of times the other Republicans really went after him. Trump was shrewd to avoid going one-on-one with Cruz, but he can’t get out of playing Hillary that way this fall.
7. Trump’s “issue.” As far as I can tell, his case against Hillary Clinton is that she’s a fraud as a feminist because she’s humored and even facilitated her husband’s huge amount of abusive womanizing. That amounts to: She’s more trashy than I am. The character component of the campaign will degrade them both, but it won’t be advantage Trump in the end.
8. Trump’s real issue: There’s something healthy, as Mead says, in the inclination to vote Trump. He’s the candidate running against the failed policies of the establishment of both of our parties. The project of liberal internationalism is breaking apart everywhere. The ridiculous concern with elite political correctness about bathrooms and such on one side and tax cuts on the other can’t hide the fact that neither party knows enough or cares enough to improve the sinking lives of struggling ordinary Americans. Trump shows people his righteous contempt for the stupidity and cluelessness of the elites who, for less than no reason, have contempt for them. The fears grow about losing (and sometimes having already lost) what it takes to lead dignified, relational lives.
But consider: Americans for good and not-so-good reasons are more security conscious than ever (that fact also explains, for example, Bernie’s success), and voting for Trump, that is, for God knows who, will be increasingly seen as excessively risky business. The spirited inclination to blow it all up will fade, and the acceptance of the devil we know, if not love, will grow. Fear usually wins over hatred, except when conditions are objectively far worse for most people than they are now. America ain’t Weimar and Walmart ain’t a dustbowl and all that. There’s just too much pumped-up playacting in the whole Trump show. It’s satisfying fun for many to have him as the Republican nominee. But as president!?
9. I almost forgot the electoral college, which is a formidable obstacle for any Republican.
Well, I could be wrong in this prediction, as I have been in most others. If I am, it’s because the hatred and contempt for Hillary Clinton and other members of liberal/Wall Street establishment is much more widespread than it seems to me right now. Or because there’s a lot more to Trump than meets my eye right now.