America may have reached Peak Trump. What more is there to say about Donald Trump? Max Boot had his say:
Trump is an ignorant demagogue who traffics in racist and misogynistic slurs and crazy conspiracy theories. He champions protectionism and isolationism – the policies that brought us the Great Depression and World War II. He wants to undertake a police-state roundup of undocumented immigrants and to bar Muslims from coming to this country. He encourages his followers to assault protesters and threatens to sue or smear critics. He would abandon Japan and South Korea and break up the most successful alliance in history – NATO. But he has kind words for tyrants such as Vladimir Putin.
There has never been a major party nominee in U.S. history as unqualified for the presidency. The risk of Trump winning, however remote, represents the biggest national security threat that the United States faces today.
That’s blunt, and Max Boot is a lifelong Republican, but Trump has his millions of fans who say he’s wonderful – he’ll make America great again. These are the keep-America-American Republicans who, like Boot, hold Ronald Reagan’s view that government is always the problem, never the solution, but who also now think that the real problem is those who aren’t Real Americans – those who aren’t straight white male evangelicals over sixty, with limited education and of limited means.
Matthew Yglesias points out that’s not quite true – many of Trump’s supporters are quite wealthy and not that old and not particularly religious and didn’t drop out of school after the eighth grade, even if they are mostly white – but one thing is true:
We do know that the unusual geographic pattern of Trumpism – stronger in the South and Northeast than in the Midwest or West – corresponds to the geography of white racial resentment in the United States. We also know that Trump rose to political prominence based on the allegation that America’s first black president wasn’t a real American at all, and launched his 2016 campaign with the allegation that Mexican immigrants to the United States are largely rapists and murders.
We know that this kind of rhetoric does not resonate with nonwhite Americans but has appealed to white voters in the kinds of places – some poor, others affluent – where the level of racism among the white population is unusually high.
Given that, Yglesias argues that opposition to Trump is also about race:
Leaving this racial element out of the story not only paints a false portrait of Trump’s rise – it makes it impossible to understand the resistance to Trump in some segments of the GOP elite. It’s true that Trump has been less than entirely orthodox on some important policy issues. But that was also true of George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney.
Part of the difference is that Trump simply hasn’t kissed the right rings in an effort to have his past deviations expunged. But a big part of the difference is that over the past 15 years the Republican Party has been trying to respond to the shrinking white share of the population by broadening its demographic appeal. There have been plenty of disagreements about exactly how to do that, but building bridges to black and Latino voters has been a common goal.
Trump represents, in effect, abandonment of that goal in favor of a very different idea of responding to the shrinking white share of the population by politicizing and mobilizing white identity while downplaying free market doctrines.
In short, he’s a pain in the ass, and now, like most Americans, tired of thinking about Donald Trump at all, they’d rather not talk about him at all:
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) really didn’t want to answer one more question about Donald Trump.
“Sometime in the next 24 hours I may do a total moratorium on any Trump questions in this building and just refer you to the office who knows how many times I’ve already answered the Trump questions,” Blunt said.
In the Senate Monday, just a week after Trump became the party’s presumptive nominee and any hope of a contested convention was laid to rest in Indiana, Republican lawmakers settled into their new normal: their futures are inextricably tied to a Manhattan billionaire who has run his campaign as if it is a reality television show. And everything he says? They are about to have to answer for it.
That, in fact, is the new challenge:
Many Republican senators – even those who vowed to support the nominee – wouldn’t say Trump’s name aloud Monday as they marched through halls to votes. Others referred reporters to their offices’ pre-scripted statements to avoid having to re-answer a politically fraught question.
“I’ve already stated my position,” Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK)
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who praised Trump’s foreign policy speech a couple of weeks ago, took a pregnant pause before answering whether he was ready to support and endorse his nominee.
“We have always planned to support the nominee,” Corker said. When asked if he planned to meet with Trump, Corker said “I don’t know … we’re busy doing our job.”
Yeah, right, but that excuse won’t wash:
This week Trump will come to Capitol Hill in an effort to bring the GOP party together. He plans to meet with GOP Senate and House leaders, including Speaker Paul Ryan, but the unease of senators is palatable as they meditate on what Trump could mean for their fragile majority.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who has said he can’t support Trump yet, simply said “yes” when asked if Trump could be enough to lose the GOP control of the Senate.
Those running, however, are trying to play it as if they are in control of their own races, a play Democrats tried to make in 2014 when many lost their seats because of strong anti-Obama sentiment in their own states.
“I support the ticket and I am running for re-election and supporting me. I want to help keep the majority in the Senate,” Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) responded when asked if he was backing Trump.
Isakson hasn’t decided if he will attend the Republican convention in Cleveland in July when Trump will be coroneted as the nominee.
There’s a lot of that going around, but that’s not everyone:
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is frustrated that his colleagues aren’t jumping on the Trump train and they are denying Trump the respect he believes he’s earned.
“Donald Trump has talked directly to the American people about concerns they have not about Washington’s concerns,” said Sessions, who has publicly endorsed Trump. “I think it is sadly true that Republicans and Democrats have somehow lost contact with the people.”
That seems to be this year’s never-ending story, but Josh Marshall sees this:
Everybody has an opinion about Donald Trump. Everybody’s got an opinion – most of them quite strong. He creates new headlines and controversies every day. That’s why he generates so much media coverage after all. He is now the leader of the Republican Party. If you’re a member of the Republican Party, get used to getting questions every day.
At the moment, Republican elected officials are basically the only people in the United States who don’t have a strong opinion about whether or not Donald Trump should be president. And that’s a big, glaring problem. Because that just won’t make sense to anybody, not his supporters or detractors.
I’m not sure it’s right to say that it’s better to just oppose him or endorse. These are both terrible options. But these various permutations of ‘no comment’ or ‘ask somebody else’ are almost as bad because they make the person saying it sound silly and ridiculous, which is really the worst thing that can happen to you in politics. Someone who can’t answer a straight question – especially when it’s a pivotal question – looks silly, stupid and most of all weak – all terrible things in a tough campaign.
Do you feel their pain? Maybe not, but Eugene Robinson points out that this guy is hard to pin down:
Trump has been steadfast on three of his most nonsensical promises: banning Muslims from entering the country, forcing Mexico to pay for a border wall and deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants. Many of his supporters surely know he could not possibly do any of those things if elected president. But some don’t – and would feel betrayed if Trump suddenly dropped the whole xenophobia thing.
On other issues, however, trying to pin Trump down on what he believes or intends has been an exercise in futility. This is a problem not only for Clinton but also for Republicans who would like to support Trump for the sake of unity but want some idea of where the party is being led.
Good luck with that, because no one may ever know:
He may have few settled beliefs aside from an abiding faith in his own brilliance. The presumptive Republican nominee has spent the past few days trying to explain what he thinks about several economic and financial questions. In theory, this should be a snap for a billionaire tycoon who graduated, as he always reminds us, from the University of Pennsylvania’s renowned Wharton School. But the more Donald Trump talked, the less he actually said.
On “Meet the Press,” moderator Chuck Todd asked Trump about the contradiction between his tax plan, under which the very wealthy would pay less than they pay now, and his suggestion last week that he might be open to raising taxes on the rich.
Trump began by claiming that “nobody knows more about taxes than I do.” Then he insisted that while businesses and the middle class definitely needed tax cuts, “for the wealthy, I think, frankly, it’s going to go up. And you know what, it really should go up.”
Except it really shouldn’t – “We lower the taxes on everybody, very substantially,” Trump said, describing his plan – but then again it might. The plan is merely a proposal, he said, subject to negotiation. And in the end, the rich are “probably going to end up paying more.”
Trump was no more lucid in trying to describe where he stands on raising the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. You may recall that in a debate last November, Trump said that “I hate to say it, but we have to leave it the way it is.” Otherwise, he said, “we’re not going to be able to compete against the world.”
On Sunday, Trump said he had traveled around the country during the campaign and “I don’t know how people make it on $7.25 an hour. Now, with that being said, I would like to see an increase of some magnitude.”
If you thought that meant he had changed his position, you would be wrong. The states should set their own minimum wage levels, he said. “But I think people should get more. I think they’re out there. They’re working. It is a very low number.”
So, for those keeping score, he’s both for and against tax hikes for the wealthy and wage increases for the working poor.
There’s more, more of the same, and this:
How does a policy wonk such as Clinton run against a policy-phobe such as Trump? Trying to define him as insufficiently studious, overly capricious and fundamentally unserious would be like painting a caricature of a cartoon.
Maybe Clinton should focus more on delivering an inspirational message of her own.
That same advice could be given to all those queasy senators, those who don’t “get” Trump, but Slate’s Jamelle Bouie makes that easy:
For Trump, both tax cuts and the minimum wage are beside the point. They weren’t the focus of his campaign or the reason he won support from a decisive plurality of Republican primary voters. Trump, in fact, has never shown any commitment to conservative spending policies. (It’s why House speaker and leading Republican ideologue Paul Ryan is reluctant to back him for the White House.) If he’s jettisoned them, it’s not because he’s a political shapeshifter so much as it’s because he just doesn’t care.
Is that a bad thing? That’s why millions love the guy – they don’t care either. They care about other things, and Bouie sees that as the real challenge here:
The real test of Trump’s ability to shift to a general election is whether he can make his core principles palatable to a broad audience, or at least obscure them enough to escape scrutiny. And yes, Trump has core principles.
If there’s one constant in Trump’s rhetoric, from his role in the “birther” movement five years ago to his present campaign, it’s his nativism, his anti-Muslim attitudes, his assorted flavors of bigotry. His opening campaign gambit was mass deportation coupled with a wall along the Mexican border – a position he still holds. Later that fall, he bolstered his intra-Republican Party popularity with a call to ban Muslims from the United States. He boosts racists on social media, is friendly (or at least not-hostile) to real-life white supremacists, and has refused to disavow anti-Semitic attacks from his online supporters. Even now, after winning the GOP nomination, he indulges misogyny and misogynistic attacks.
This is the same argument Yglesias made:
In the ten months since he launched his campaign for president, Trump has showed the extent to which bigotry sits at the center of his persona. And if he’s going to shapeshift for a general audience, he needs to obscure it. Thus far, there’s no evidence he can. On Thursday, the Republican presidential nominee appeared on Fox News with Bill O’Reilly, where he delivered a message to Vicente Fox, the former Mexican president. “Yeah,” he said, “get your money ready, ’cause you’re going to pay for the wall.”
When your campaign is all affect and attitude, what is there to pivot away from but yourself?
That’s not going to happen, and Michael Gerson offers this analysis:
What common views or traits unite the most visible Trump partisans? A group including Rush Limbaugh and Chris Christie is not defined primarily by ideology. Rather, the Trumpians share a disdain for “country-club” Republicans (though former House speaker John Boehner apparently likes Trump because they were golfing buddies). They tend to be white and middle-aged. They are filled with resentment.
Above all, they detest weakness in themselves and others. The country, in their view, has grown soft and feeble. Their opponents are losers, lacking in energy. Rather than despising bullying – as Ryan, Romney and all the Bushes do – they elevate it. The strong must take power, defy political correctness, humiliate and defeat their opponents, and reverse the nation’s slide toward mediocrity.
Gerson sees that as self-limiting:
This type of leadership can motivate, usually through resentment and anger. What it cannot do is inspire. Inspiring leaders are often those who identify with the weak. They may develop this trait by rising from poverty themselves, like Abraham Lincoln did. Or they may have had their capacity for empathy expanded by suffering, such as Franklin Roosevelt’s struggle with polio. In American history, inspiring leadership has often been informed by religion, which (at its best) universalizes our empathy.
This is the main reason that some of us cannot simply lump it and reluctantly lend our support to Trump. The Republican Party is not engaged in a policy argument; it is debating the purpose of politics.
That may be the real divide here:
For some Trump opponents, the justice of a political system is determined by its treatment of the vulnerable and weak. In the Catholic tradition, this is called “solidarity.” Whatever you call it, this commitment is inconsistent with a type of politics that beats up on the vulnerable and weak – say, undocumented workers, or Muslims – for political gain.
Those who accuse Trump opponents of elitism are engaged in a particularly mendacious slur. Trump is attempting to place nativism at the center of U.S. politics. Those who resist are not enforcing the rules of a private club. Many – including religious people in poor and working-class communities – are defending a vision of politics in which empathy is honored and the weak are placed first. They are opposing a candidate who mocks disabled people, demeans women, engages in ethnic stereotyping and encourages religious bigotry.
Gerson is with Max Boot on this, but on purely moral grounds:
Make no mistake. Those who support Trump, no matter how reluctantly, have crossed a moral boundary. They are standing with a leader who encourages prejudice and despises the weak. They are aiding the transformation of a party formed by Lincoln’s blazing vision of equality into a party of white resentment. Those who find this one of the normal, everyday compromises of politics have truly lost their way.
This is not even to mention Trump’s pledge to limit press freedom, or his malicious birtherism, or his dangerous vaccine skepticism, or his economic plans that would bring global recession, or his lack of relevant qualifications, or his temperament of brooding and bragging, egotism and self-pity, or his promise to emancipate the world from American leadership, or his accusation that Ted Cruz’s father was somehow involved with Lee Harvey Freaking Oswald.
Some are trying their best to act as though all this were normal.
It isn’t normal, so Gerson, George W. Bush’s chief speechwriter from 2001 until June 2006 and senior policy advisor and member of the White House Iraq Group, and a leading figure on the evangelical intelligentsia movement, comes to the same conclusion as Boot:
None of this requires a vote for Hillary Clinton. But it forbids a vote for Donald Trump.
The resistance is growing. We may have reached Peak Trump. There will be no additional support for him from here on out. And then there’s this:
Mark Salter, the most prominent and most defiant Republican to announce his support of Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, thinks the 2016 campaign could literally – no joke – drive the billionaire developer insane.
Salter, one of Sen. John McCain’s top aides during the 2008 campaign and the co-author of his books, spent the final few doomed weeks of the race against Barack Obama in a glum fog – knowing his boss, buddy and alter ego would lose, and badly. It was a rotten experience, but Salter sees in Trump’s rise (and potential fall) a sliver of redemption for McCain, with the possibility of paying back Trump for disrespecting his hero. …
Salter thinks Trump, who infamously mocked McCain for getting “captured,” will melt like fontina in a fondue pot in the glare of the general election when he realizes he can’t beat Clinton.
“He’s going to lose, and I think he’s got kind of an unstable personality to begin with.”
But it’s just a guess:
Salter, sitting in his writer’s warren/office in Old Town Alexandria in Virginia, said he wouldn’t venture a guess on Trump’s mental state. Then he smiled and went right ahead. “I think he could come apart, you know, in some kind of visible way,” the 61-year-old Salter said. “I think that’s quite possible… I’m not a psychiatrist, but there is something wrong with the guy.”
Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog says Salter has it all wrong:
As the polls show that his defeat is inevitable, he’ll claim the media and the pollster are all disgusting liars. When he loses, he’ll blame sabotage from the press, the Republican Establishment, and the Evil Clinton Machine. After that, he might just go right back to being a birther commentator on Fox & Friends or he might go off and sulk, and he’ll probably try to resurrect his TV and surname-merchandising career, but there’s never going to be a psychotic break, for a simple reason: he will be always be certain that he should have won, because he is Donald Trump, and Trump is the greatest. Trump will always believe that Trump cannot fail, he can only be failed.
That sounds about right. The guy really is a jerk, and it’s likely that all the people who are going to vote for him have already voted for him, in the Republican primaries and caucuses – there will be no more. Actually, he’s doing a good job of assuring there will be no more. It’s not exactly self-sabotage, but as with peak oil, the available finite reserves are dwindling and the cost of extracting anything useful is skyrocketing. We may have actually reached Peak Trump. It’s about time – unless it isn’t.