From 1951 through 1962 our government tested atomic bombs in the high desert just sixty-five miles from Las Vegas – the mushroom clouds could be seen from the downtown hotels and were a bit of a tourist attraction – but after one hundred of those atmospheric tests our government realized the fallout was killing people. They decided to set off those things deep underground at the same site – the next eight hundred or so tests – but by 1994 they’d stopped that too. It wasn’t just the new test-ban treaties – the whole thing was scary as hell. The earth shook, the local aquafers were a bit radioactive, and there were mutants. How else do you explain Wayne Newton?
Las Vegas is still a scary place, for other reasons now, as is all of Nevada. Our government still tests odd things out there in the middle of nowhere, and driving through the big emptiness one does feel as if a giant bomb is about to go off somewhere or other – but this week it was only Donald Trump. He tied Marco Rubio in the Iowa caucuses, behind Ted Cruz, but then won the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries, easily, and he just blew away everyone in the Nevada caucuses. He will be the Republican nominee this year. He blew up the Republican Party as everyone has known it. He was the ten-megaton atomic bomb in the Nevada desert, and as Amy Davidson reports, he knew that:
“We’re going to do it and it’s going to happen fast,” Donald Trump said at his victory party on Tuesday night, at the Treasure Island Hotel, in Las Vegas, after winning the Nevada caucus by a large margin. Trump was referring to the great-again-making of America, which he portrayed as unfolding at breakneck speed – as fast as construction workers paid for by Mexico could build his border wall. But he might as well have meant his pursuit of the Republican nomination. As Trump pointed out, the next Republican contests are on March 1st, Super Tuesday, in a dozen states whose names he listed fondly (“Arkansaaaw”) and that he said he thought he would win. The only state where he’s not leading in the polls is Texas, Ted Cruz’s home state, and he’s catching up there. Trump mentioned his leads in Michigan, the biggest of the states voting on March 8th; in Florida, Marco Rubio’s state (“We love Florida”), which votes on March 15th; and Ohio, John Kasich’s state (“It’s always nice to be beating the governor”), which is also voting on March 15th. “It’s going to be an amazing two months,” Trump said. “We might not even need the two months, folks, to be honest.” That is an honest statement, by Trump’s standards or anyone’s.
Davidson sees the whole thing as over now:
The Republican Party, along with everyone else, should now be well past the idea that Trump cannot possibly be the nominee simply because he is Trump. There is no clause saying that having had a television reality show makes one ineligible for the Presidency. He will win the nomination if he wins a majority of the delegates – barring a collapse of the party – and he will win the Presidency if he wins enough electoral votes, whatever people think of his hair or of his bigotry. Tackiness has no constitutional meaning. It was always strange, early in the race, to hear other candidates condemn Trump’s lack of seriousness, in a tone that suggested that they themselves were models of statesmanship. Sneering – especially in a way that invokes class – is not an effective tool against him. For one thing, in the current economy, it resonates.
He was the bomb that dropped, but Charles Cooke at the National Review says it’s time the real Republicans and real conservatives built their own atomic bomb – It’s Time for an Anti-Trump Manhattan Project – whatever that means. Nevada does make one think of atomic bombs, but John Cole at Balloon Juice says these real Republicans and real conservatives have only themselves to blame:
Either they are too stupid to recognize it, or they don’t want to take the blame, or some combination of both, but they built Trump. It was decades of these stupid mother fuckers shouting about Obama being a secret Muslim or Hillary murdered Vince Foster, and Dan Burton shooting a fucking watermelon to prove it, to another melon-based theory about Mexicans having calves the size of cantaloupes, and women wanting to abort babies for shits and giggles, and sending rock salt to Olympia Snowe and claiming there is no global climate change because LOOK RIGHT FUCKING HERE I HAVE A SNOWBALL IN FEBRUARY – or convincing America that welfare and food stamps only go to young bucks buying T-bone steaks or welfare queens with big screen tv’s – or that public transportation is totalitarianism or that the main cost-cutting technique of health care reform will be Death Panels, or that prison makes you gay, or that man and dinosaurs lived together in harmony, or that women can magically abort pregnancies created by rape, or that scientists are genetically creating human/mice super brains, or that agribusiness is using aborted fetuses in soda, or that if gay people marry pretty soon people will be marrying dogs, or that Presidents Lincoln and Washington used electronic surveillance, and actually writing, promoting, and believing a fucking book that said liberalism is fascism and running this person as a Vice Presidential candidate, to claiming with no scientific evidence that vaccines cause autism.
My bad. That last one is a Democrat.
Cole has links to all those absurdities – he’s not making stuff up – but Nevada was the wake-up call. Republicans are in full panic, so you get stuff like this – Mitt Romney suggests there’s a “bombshell” in Donald Trump’s taxes – which is rich, coming from a guy who wouldn’t release his until Harry Reid, the senator from Nevada, said that Romney clearly had something to hide. See Donald Trump: Mitt Romney is “A Fool,” “Playing Tough Guy” – which is an easy and obvious and effective response. Romney never was much of an attack dog.
What to do? Linda Feldmann reviews the Republicans’ dilemma:
Some Republicans suggest that to beat Trump, you have to think like Trump: Attack him on his weaknesses. And Trump has plenty, they say. Start with his thin skin, on display in the last Republican debate, when Jeb Bush went after him over eminent domain and for blaming his brother on the 9/11 attacks. The audience booed Trump, and he lashed out.
“Trump is kind of prickly and can be baited,” says Chip Felkel, a Greenville, S.C.-based Republican strategist who is not affiliated with a 2016 campaign.
The argument is that Trump is temperamentally unsuited to being president. New Jersey Gov. Christie tried that argument in the final debate before the New Hampshire primary. Perhaps the result speaks for itself: Trump won New Hampshire going away, and Governor Christie dropped out.
And there’s this:
Other candidates have gone after Trump and flamed out. Texas Gov. Rick Perry attacked Trump early, going after his conservative credentials and calling him a “false prophet.” He was out of the race by last September.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul called Trump “a delusional narcissist and an orange-faced windbag,” in an appearance in January on Comedy Central’s “Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.” “A speck of dirt is way more qualified to be president,” Senator Paul added for good measure. Within days, he was out of the race, too.
Name-calling obviously accomplishes nothing, at least when it’s a Trump opponent on the attack. And it just validates Trump’s own colorful use of language when going after his adversaries. With Trump, aggressive language shows he’s a fighter – a quality that voters are looking for at a time of economic and international insecurity.
And this didn’t work:
Perhaps the best way to take down Trump, some suggest, is to attack his perceived strengths – his success as a businessman and the notion that he’s a populist standing up for the little guy. His supporters don’t seem to care much about his four bankruptcies, or the fact that he inflates his net worth (he says $8.7 billion, Forbes says $4 billion), or that he has yet to release his tax returns.
But Trump could be vulnerable, observers say, over the thousands of employees who have lost their jobs over the years, as happened, for example, when Trump Plaza closed in Atlantic City in 2014. Then there’s Vera Coking, the widow whose Atlantic City home Trump wanted to tear down so he could build a parking lot for limousines – and the small businesses he tried to squeeze out of Bridgeport, Conn., so he could develop the land.
Finding those people and telling their stories is “roughly what the Democrats did to Mitt Romney, rendering him radioactive with many of the same working class voters currently backing Trump,” writes New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, referring to the Republicans’ 2012 nominee.
“Except with Trump the trick is subtly different,” Mr. Douthat continues. “Mitt was a numbers guy, so he was caricatured as a cruel Scrooge. But Trump is a salesman: That’s been a big part of his campaign’s success. And how do you flip a salesman’s brand? You persuade people that he’s a con artist, and they’re his marks.”
Needless to say, people are not persuaded. They forgive him for being a tad aggressive. He likes to win. Sweet little old ladies don’t matter that much – winning does – but there’s this:
Another avenue for taking down Trump is via the super-political action committees, the outside groups that independently support candidates. Some have taken on Trump, but with limited success. One called Make America Awesome claims it made headway with Iowa voters in an ad on eminent domain abuse.
Another super PAC, devoted solely to taking down Trump, released its game plan on Monday.
“Many have asked me, ‘What can be done to stop Trump?'” writes Katie Packer Gage, executive director of Our Principles PAC. “The answer is simple: TRY.”
Sure, try everything you can think of – something is bound to work, or not. The bomb already went off. These guys are already dying of radiation poisoning from the fallout, to extend the metaphor a bit dramatically.
Slate’s Josh Voorhees says the fallout is worse than that. He argues that Trump could beat Hillary Clinton in the general election:
If you are a Democrat or simply someone who is unable to sleep imagining Trump’s stubby fingers on the button, you will be happy to hear that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both lead Trump in surveys that ask about potential general election match-ups. You will be less happy, though, when I put those numbers in context.
For starters, that type of hypothetical polling has limited value this far out from Election Day – particularly for someone like Sanders who remains less known nationally – since we’re in for what we can assume will be an incredibly nasty and absurdly expensive general election fight. Still, the numbers we do have suggest Trump is hardly the electoral black swan he’s made out to be. According to Huffington Post’s aggregated average, Clinton currently tops Trump by 4 points, 48 percent to 44 percent, while Sanders leads him by 10 points, 51 percent to 41 percent. Rubio, though, fares only a little better than Trump (down 1 point to Clinton; 6 to Sanders), and Cruz only slightly worse (down 5 to Clinton; 11 to Sanders.) If head-to-head polls suggesting November is little better than a coin flip are enough to convince Democrats that Hillary will trounce Trump in November, they could have popped the champagne bottles long before he turned into a primary juggernaut this month.
Furthermore, on this date four years ago, Mitt Romney trailed Barack Obama by 5 points – one more than Trump currently trails Clinton – in similar general election polling. Yes, Obama went on to win re-election, but it wasn’t as though the Republicans handed him four more years by nominating the former Massachusetts governor. Obama had to work for it.
But there’s more:
Trump continues to defy pretty much every political commandment in the Beltway bible, along with basic societal norms to boot. He began his campaign with a rambling speech that compared Mexicans to rapists and murderers, and somehow still managed to continue to shock with his unveiled racism, misogyny, and Islamophobia in the months that followed. Certainly, that would make him less appealing to the general public, right? Wrong.
He went from trailing Clinton in the head-to-head polls by 20 points last summer to down only 4 points today. His favorability ratings tell a similar story. Last May, when few actually believed he’d give up his reality television career to run for president, his favorable-unfavorable split among all Americans – not just Republicans – was at negative-47 points. Today, after eight months of demagogy, it’s improved to negative-21. (In that same period, Hillary’s split moved in the opposite direction, from negative-3 to negative-12.) Trump, meanwhile, has built a far broader coalition of conservative voters than anyone expected – just look at the record number of voters who have turned out for the first four contests of 2016. Entrance and exit polls suggest he’s popular among wide swaths of the GOP electorate, including both those who describe themselves as “very conservative” and those who see themselves as “moderate.”
In a year that has been defined by anti-establishment anger, it’s also not unthinkable to imagine a scenario in a general election fight with Clinton where Trump peels off a small though significant slice of Sanders supporters – particularly given the subtle threads of misogyny that have been spotted running along the far fringes of Bernie’s legion of fans.
Now consider this:
The Trump-will-get-crushed theory rests on two central pillars. The first is that independents will take one look at the real estate tycoon and go running into the arms of Clinton. The problem, though, is that there are far fewer swing votes in play than many Americans like to believe. Partisanship dominates modern elections in ways it never did when Barry Goldwater or George McGovern were buried underneath November landslides. Party loyalty will convince many conservative-leaning independents to rethink their personal feelings about Trump – just as it will do the same for those liberal-leaning independents who remain skeptical of Clinton. There’s unlikely to be enough true undecideds left in the middle to turn the election into a blowout.
The second pillar is that a large chunk of hard-core conservatives simply won’t be able to bring themselves to pull the lever for Trump and will either vote for Hillary, stay home, or vote for a third-party candidate, which would be the same as staying home.
The first scenario would be laughable – this is Hillary freaking Clinton we’re talking about – but the latter two can’t be taken as a given on a grand scale, especially in a campaign that has now turned, at least in part, into a referendum on the future of the Supreme Court.
That could play either way:
Democrats tell themselves that the chance to replace the late Antonin Scalia will energize their base, and it likely will. But so too will it likely fire up conservatives who will spend the summer being warned of all they will lose if Clinton wins the White House and is given the chance to replace their conservative hero with a liberal villain. Yes, many in the Republican Party will fear they won’t like Trump’s pick for the high court, but they’ll certainly like it more than anyone Clinton would nominate. The Donald, meanwhile, could put such worries largely to rest by simply announcing a party-approved nominee as his pick while the election is still going on. …
That’s not to say we should all prepare ourselves for the classiest, most luxurious inauguration this country has ever seen. If Trump really does win the GOP nomination, he will find the general electorate significantly less receptive to his belligerent sales pitch than conservatives have been. He’d also face a Democratic Party apparatus that is far more organized than its GOP counterpart has been this cycle, along with inescapable demographic trends and an electoral map that favors his opponent. But Trump has been proving politicos, pundits, and political journalists wrong for the better part of a year now.
This could happen and Salon’s Sean Illing is angry about that:
I hate to have to say it, but the conclusion stares us in the face: We’re a stupid country, full of loud, illiterate and credulous people. Trump has marched straight to the nomination without offering anything like a platform or a plan. With a vocabulary of roughly a dozen words – wall, Mexicans, low-energy, loser, Muslims, stupid, China, negotiate, deals, America, great, again – he’s bamboozled millions of Americans. And it’s not just splenetic conservatives supporting Trump or your garden-variety bigots (although that’s the center of his coalition); it’s also independents, pro-choice Republicans, and a subset of Reagan Democrats.
This says something profoundly uncomfortable about our country and our process. A majority of Americans appear wholly uninterested in the actual business of government; they don’t understand it and don’t want to. They have vague feelings about undefined issues and they surrender their votes on emotional grounds to whoever approximates their rage. This has always been true to some extent, but Trump is a Rubicon-crossing moment for the nation.
Angry liberals aren’t pretty:
Trump’s wager was simple: Pretend to be stupid and angry because that’s what stupid and angry people like. He’s held up a mirror to the country, shown us how blind and apish we are. He knew how undiscerning the populace would be, how little they cared about details and facts. In Nevada, for instance, 70 percent of Trump voters said they preferred an “anti-establishment” candidate to one with any “experience in politics.” Essentially, that means they don’t care if he understands how government works or if he has the requisite skills to do the job. It’s a protest vote, born of rage, not deliberation.
In no other domain of life would this make any sense at all. If your attorney drops the ball, you don’t hire a plumber to replace him. And yet millions of Trumpites say they don’t care if Trump has ever worked at any level of government or if he knows anything about foreign policy or the law or the Constitution. It’s enough that he greets them at their level, panders to their lowest instincts.
And the rant continues:
People will say Trump is just another demagogue, a sophist with a talent for self-promotion. Or that’s he a vacuous populist who craftily tapped into the zeitgeist. Or that other presidential candidates have succeeded without, shall we say, an understanding of the issues. But that understates Trump’s significance.
Take Ronald Reagan. He exploded onto the political scene in the early 80s, and was famously ignorant by presidential standards. … Reagan’s list of doltish quotes is long and impressive. But he won over the country with superficial appeals and a generic handsomeness. Trump’s no Reagan, however. Reagan at least gave eloquent speeches studded with flowery rhetoric and serious-sounding aims. He was, after all, an actor who could read a script prepared by someone else with impeccable flair.
Trump isn’t half the orator Reagan was, and he doesn’t need to be. Trump has decided that voters are so clueless, so deliriously angry, that feigned bigotry and empty promises to “make America great again” will do – no specifics needed. And he’s obviously right. … He may be cynical, but he isn’t wrong.
If so, one must end the rant with this:
The Founders of this country were Enlightenment-era elitists. They represented everything Tea Partiers and Trumpites abhor – free inquiry, progress, science, and reason. Humans being high primates, they wondered whether the average citizen could be trusted with a democracy, whether the fury of the mob could be contained. They were wrong about a lot of things – race in particular – but a Trump nomination, perhaps more than anything else, would be the ultimate vindication of their concerns.
The fury of the mob cannot be contained this time. Trump is counting on that, but Kevin Drum is more measured:
The one thing that knits all these Trump supporters together isn’t low wages or jobs disappearing overseas or xenophobic fear of anyone nonwhite. You can find each of these qualities in some of Trump’s supporters, but not in all of them. As near as I can tell, the only thing that all of them seem to share is a desire for someone “tough.” Mostly they want someone who’s tough on foreigners of various stripes, but Trump also does well by insisting he’ll be tough on crime, tough on insurance companies, tough on hedge fund managers, and tough on a slew of other malingerers.
And now I’m trying to think of what to say next. It’s not that I’m surprised toughness sells to a certain audience. What I’m surprised by is that so many people buy the idea that Trump is tough. To me, it looks like a reality show shtick. It’s so obviously phony that it barely seems conceivable that so many people are taken in by it. Is that really all you have to do? Just a lot of blustery talk and that’s that? When did so many Americans get that gullible?
All Drum can say is this:
Trump’s act seems so obviously childish to me that I have a hard time accepting the fact that so many people apparently take it seriously. But what else explains him?
Maybe this does:
A new set of public opinion survey results asking atypical but timely questions has shed some light on the Trump coalition. The results suggest how Mr. Trump has upended the contemporary divide in the party and built a significant part of his coalition of voters on people who are responsive to religious, social and racial intolerance.
New data from YouGov and Public Policy Polling show the extent to which he has tapped into a set of deeply rooted racial attitudes. But first, two caveats about these data are worth bearing in mind. The national YouGov survey was done near the middle of January, before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries. Public Policy Polling is a company aligned with the Democratic Party, and some of its results over the years have been suspected of bias. Taken by itself, its conclusions could be doubted. Taken with the YouGov and exit poll data, however, these three surveys can give us a better idea of Mr. Trump’s backers.
This is odd:
Mr. Trump’s support among those who say they support a temporary ban on Muslim entry into the United States – a notion Mr. Trump first advanced in early December – is significant. He won more than twice as many supporters of the ban in South Carolina as any other candidate. Voters often echo the things candidates say on the campaign trail, so that level may not be revelatory.
Possibly more surprising are the attitudes of Mr. Trump’s supporters on things that he has not talked very much about on the campaign trail. He has said nothing about a ban on gays in the United States, the outcome of the Civil War or white supremacy. Yet on all of these topics, Mr. Trump’s supporters appear to stand out from the rest of Republican primary voters.
There’s much more, but the short form, after South Carolina, was this:
70% think the Confederate flag should still be flying over the State Capital, to only 20% who agree with it being taken down. In fact 38% of Trump voters say they wish the South had won the Civil War to only 24% glad the North won and 38% who aren’t sure. Overall just 36% of Republican primary voters in the state are glad the North emerged victorious to 30% for the South, but Trump’s the only one whose supporters actually wish the South had won.
There’s also 62/23 support among Trump voters for creating a national database of Muslims and 40/36 support for shutting down all the mosques in the United States, something no one else’s voters back. Only 44% of Trump voters think the practice of Islam should even be legal at all in the United States.
Drum is wrong. These aren’t gullible people. They are mutants – test an atomic bomb and you get those – the premise of all those Japanese Godzilla movies. You get monsters, and Donald Trump was the bomb, dropped in Nevada, just like old times. All we can do now is sift through the rubble.