[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below]
Yes, of course she will. Her post-convention “bounce” has been significant, as everyone knows, and while the numbers may possibly dip in the coming weeks—or, more likely, may not—it is more than unlikely that Trump could turn it into a horse race, let alone take the lead, barring some mega-revelation about Hillary. And even then. One has likely seen the latest poll from Georgia, that has Hillary leading Trump by four points. If this is at all accurate and the numbers hold—i.e. if Georgia is in play—then this thing is over. The only question is the scale of the landslide.
To know that Trump is all but toast—that he is, in the words of a top aide to Mitt Romney in 2012, “a neutron bomb that has gone off in the Republican Party“—one may merely read the latest commentaries by conservative pundits, most decades-long Hillary-haters, e.g. Peggy Noonan in the WSJ (August 4th), on “The week they decided Donald Trump was crazy.” Money quote
Here is a truth of life. When you act as if you’re insane, people are liable to think you’re insane. That’s what happened this week. People started to become convinced he was nuts, a total flake.
WaPo’s Charles Krauthammer said much the same in his column (August 4th), “Donald Trump and the fitness threshold”
This is beyond narcissism. I used to think Trump was an 11-year-old, an undeveloped schoolyard bully. I was off by about 10 years. His needs are more primitive, an infantile hunger for approval and praise, a craving that can never be satisfied. He lives in a cocoon of solipsism where the world outside himself has value — indeed exists — only insofar as it sustains and inflates him.
Krauthammer’s equally right-wing colleague, George F. Will, has been on anti-Trump tear of late. In his column (August 3rd), “Trump’s shallowness runs deep,” he makes this pertinent observation
[Trump’s] speeches are, of course, syntactical train wrecks, but there might be a method to his madness. He rarely finishes a sentence (“Believe me!” does not count), but perhaps he is not the scatterbrain he has so successfully contrived to appear. Maybe he actually is a sly rascal, cunningly in pursuit of immunity through profusion.
He seems to understand that if you produce a steady stream of sufficiently stupefying statements, there will be no time to dwell on any one of them, and the net effect on the public will be numbness and ennui. So, for example, while the nation has been considering his interesting decision to try to expand his appeal by attacking Gold Star parents, little attention has been paid to this: Vladimir Putin’s occupation of Crimea has escaped Trump’s notice.
Trump’s words on geopolitics, and particularly on America’s NATO allies, prompted the Trump-loathing Über-conservative blogger-commentator Erick Erickson to fire off an incendiary broadside, aimed at Trump-supporting fellow conservatives, on his website The Resurgent (August 4th), “Donald Trump can go to hell and if you defend his statement, so can you.” Aïe!
And then there’s David Brooks’s latest (August 5th) on the GOP’s “70-year-old man-child” candidate, which is worth quoting at length
Trump has shown that he is not a normal candidate. He is a political rampage charging ever more wildly out of control. And no, he cannot be changed.
He cannot be contained because he is psychologically off the chain. With each passing week he displays the classic symptoms of medium-grade mania in more disturbing forms: inflated self-esteem, sleeplessness, impulsivity, aggression and a compulsion to offer advice on subjects he knows nothing about.
His speech patterns are like something straight out of a psychiatric textbook. Manics display something called “flight of ideas.” It’s a formal thought disorder in which ideas tumble forth through a disordered chain of associations. One word sparks another, which sparks another, and they’re off to the races. As one trained psychiatrist said to me, compare Donald Trump’s speaking patterns to a Robin Williams monologue, but with insults instead of jokes.
Trump insults Paul Ryan, undermines NATO and raises the specter of nuclear war. Advisers can’t control Trump’s brain because Trump can’t control it himself.
He also cannot be contained because he lacks the inner equipment that makes decent behavior possible. So many of our daily social interactions depend on a basic capacity for empathy. But Trump displays an absence of this quality.
He looks at the grieving mother of a war hero and is unable to recognize her pain. He hears a crying baby and is unable to recognize the infant’s emotion or the mother’s discomfort. He is told of women being sexually harassed at Fox News and is unable to recognize their trauma.
The same blindness that makes him impervious to global outrage makes it impossible for him to make empathetic connection. Fear is his only bond.
Some people compare Trump to the great authoritarians of history, but that’s wrong. They were generally disciplined men with grandiose plans. Trump is underdeveloped and unregulated.
He is a slave to his own pride, compelled by a childlike impulse to lash out at anything that threatens his fragile identity. He appears to have no ability to experience reverence, which is the foundation for any capacity to admire or serve anything bigger than self, to want to learn about anything beyond self, to want to know and deeply honor the people around you.
N.B. These are the assessments of conservative, Republican-voting commentators. The bottom line: there is no way—not a snowball’s chance in hell—that the American electorate will send a man to the White House who is manifestly mentally ill. That Trump is this is obvious to anyone who doesn’t get 100% of his or her information from Fox News, right-wing talk radio, and/or the American Internet réacosphère.
On sources of information, writer George Saunders, in his long, must read article in The New Yorker last month, “Who are all these Trump supporters?,” had this observation
Where is all this anger coming from? It’s viral, and Trump is Typhoid Mary. Intellectually and emotionally weakened by years of steadily degraded public discourse, we are now two separate ideological countries, LeftLand and RightLand, speaking different languages, the lines between us down. Not only do our two subcountries reason differently; they draw upon non-intersecting data sets and access entirely different mythological systems. You and I approach a castle. One of us has watched only “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” the other only “Game of Thrones.” What is the meaning, to the collective “we,” of yon castle? We have no common basis from which to discuss it. You, the other knight, strike me as bafflingly ignorant, a little unmoored. In the old days, a liberal and a conservative (a “dove” and a “hawk,” say) got their data from one of three nightly news programs, a local paper, and a handful of national magazines, and were thus starting with the same basic facts (even if those facts were questionable, limited, or erroneous). Now each of us constructs a custom informational universe, wittingly (we choose to go to the sources that uphold our existing beliefs and thus flatter us) or unwittingly (our app algorithms do the driving for us). The data we get this way, pre-imprinted with spin and mythos, are intensely one-dimensional. (As a proud knight of LeftLand, I was interested to find that, in RightLand, Vince Foster has still been murdered, Dick Morris is a reliable source, kids are brainwashed “way to the left” by going to college, and Obama may yet be Muslim. I expect that my interviewees found some of my core beliefs equally jaw-dropping.)
Not that there’s symmetry between LeftLand and RightLand. One is delusional and unhinged, the other is not. No need to specify which is which.
As for Trump’s fans, certain observers have said that we need to listen to them, to hear them out, try to understand where they’re coming from, maybe feel their pain, alienation, and anger. Right. I’ve done that, with Saunders’s piece and others. And I’ve had enough of reading about those people. The NYT video of the crowds at Trump’s rallies, which everyone has seen by now, was it. These people are politically and morally depraved. Erick Erickson, referenced above, did well in telling them to go to hell, as did Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce in so many words, in a July 14th tirade, in which he correctly asserted that “anyone who supports Donald Trump is a traitor to the American idea.” Allen Clifton—a Texas-based blogger and co-founder of the Forward Progressives website, both unknown to me before today—has a commentary (August 5th) that gets it exactly right. It begins
When it comes to Donald Trump’s campaign, I’ve honestly reached a point where I have to remind myself that this is a legitimate Republican presidential candidate who may very well become our next president. This whole circus has become so outrageously bizarre that it’s hard for me to mentally grasp the reality that tens of millions of people are actually supporting this buffoon.
Before this election, I typically avoided calling people “stupid” for supporting a particular presidential candidate. In 2012, I might have thought Mitt Romney had no business being president, but I didn’t feel as if someone had to be mentally unhinged to support him.
However, when it comes to Trump supporters, I have no qualms in saying I completely believe that someone has to be an absolute imbecile to think he should be our next president. I’ve never seen a candidate blatantly treat his supporters like bumbling idiots — yet they love him for it.
His entire campaign has been a joke. I’ve often said that Donald Trump is what the comments section of a right-wing blog would look and sound like if it could run for president. All he’s done his entire campaign is tell his hostile, rabid and ignorant supporters exactly what they want to hear, even if most of what he’s been telling them hasn’t contained a shred of truth.
Though I feel a tweet he sent out late Thursday evening perfectly exemplifies how factually devoid and delusional his entire campaign has been:
To read that tweet and the rest of Clifton’s spot-on piece, go here.
Précision: We’re talking here about Trump’s die-hard fans, who will stick with him even if he literally shoots someone on Fifth Avenue. But a certain number of his supporters, even in the famous white working class, have been soft and are now falling away. Not everyone who voted Trump in the primaries was an idiot. Some of these voters are realizing—if they haven’t already—that they’ve been played by Trump, that his promises on trade and the economy are worthless, that he is not a credible messenger for his populist discourse. Perhaps some knew it all along but were consciously casting a protest vote. Sending a message to the Republican and Democratic Party establishments alike, something like that. I am reminded here of a poll that was taken in France after the 2002 presidential election—the one that saw Jean-Marie Le Pen, in a shocker, overtake Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in the first round to square off against President Jacques Chirac in the second ballot two weeks later—in which fully half of Le Pen’s voters said that they would not have voted for him had they thought he had any chance of actually being elected (Chirac won with 82%). One may hypothesize that some of Trump’s dropping numbers may be attributed to this, to some of his voters getting cold feet when they saw him running neck-and-neck with Hillary in the polls after the RNC.
Now, for the sake of argument, what would happen if, by some crazy turn of events, Trump pulled even with Hillary in the final stretch of the campaign—and despite bailing out of the debates, which I consider likely (as he knows she’ll shred him into little pieces)—and looked like he had a serious chance of winning? At the risk of provoking the paranoia of Trump and his supporters, one may be sure that America’s Deep State—particularly in the military, intelligence, and foreign policy establishments—will pull out all the stops to prevent this, beginning with the leak of his tax returns to Julian Assange—or, if he’s in cahoots with Trump, to another outlet. And if that doesn’t do the trick in sinking Trump, the “Deep State” will come up with something else. They will do all they can to insure his defeat. And if it comes down to that, I wish the powers-that-be well in their efforts.
To push it further, what would happen in the unthinkable, utterly unlikely event that Trump pulled off his three state strategy (FL-OH-PA) and won a 273-265 Electoral College victory? Answer: chaos and unprecedented constitutional crisis. First, his narrow EC victory would certainly be accompanied by a decisive defeat in the popular vote. Seriously: it is beyond inconceivable that Trump could possibly overtake Hillary Clinton in the popular vote in what will certainly be a high turnout election, with over 130 million voters going to the polls. 65 million Americans—or even 60—are not going to vote for Donald Trump. The legitimacy of a narrow Trump EC victory would be rejected by a very sizable portion of American society, and would more than likely prompt a sufficient number of Trump electors—it would just take three or four—to break the faith when the Electoral College meets on December 19th and throw the election to the House—which would generate a legitimacy crisis of its own. The shock in the UK and among British elites after the Brexit vote—and consequent fallout in financial markets—would pale in comparison to what the US would experience in such an event.
Secondly, Trump would not be able to govern. Another comparison with France and the 2002 election: a few months after that one, I advanced a hypothesis to a haut fonctionnaire—specifically, a member of the Cour des Comptes—with whom I was acquainted that if Le Pen had won the presidential election, the grand corps de l’État—the men and women who run the French state and are seconded to ministerial staffs—would decline to collaborate with his administration, the shameful experience of the Vichy regime—and disgrace of the French state—very much in mind. He agreed, saying that he would not serve or collaborate with a Le Pen presidency, nor would his other colleagues, so he believed. Such would certainly be the case with Trump in the White House. With the American “Deep State,” indeed the entire Washington establishment—civil service, media, think tanks, you name it—hostile to him, Trump wouldn’t be able to do a thing. He would issue executive orders and throw temper tantrums but nothing would happen. One can barely even imagine him trying to fill the six thousand vacancies in the top echelons of the federal government. It would be crazy and impossible. The Banana-Republicification of the United States.
But this is politique-fiction, as it’s not going to happen.
All sorts of people have been wondering about the reaction of Trump’s supporters if he denounces his inevitable election loss as the product of fraud and rigging, fretting over the prospect of civil unrest, or worse. GMAB. When Trump gets pummeled on November 8th and denounces fraud and rigging— though without a shred of evidence—what, pray, are his brigades of dead-ender yahoo supporters going to do? Riot in the streets of Oklahoma City and Chattanooga? Launch an armed insurrection? N’importe quoi! The most they’ll do is unleash a torrent of incendiary tweets. The institutions of American democracy will withstand that.
So what’s a Republican voter appalled by Trump to do? Borrowing again from the French experience, there are two options. One: do what left voters did in the second round of the 2002 presidential election, which was to vote en masse for the right-wing Chirac—whom left voters had long despised, even calling him an outright fascist in the early years of his political career—to bar the route to Le Pen. Left voters went to their polling stations and just did it. GOP voters can just do it too: vote Hillary. Option two: do what many left voters—myself included—may well end up doing in round two of the presidential election next May, which is to vote blanc, i.e. drop an empty envelope into the ballot box. Not vote for anyone. In the US, that would mean passing on the presidential race and voting only down-ballot. Or, alternatively, voting for Gary Johnson. Le choix est clair.
Readers who are still with me will note that, after 2,700 words, I have hardly discussed Hillary. This has been all about Trump. It’s been all Trump all the time. Trump’s ability to monopolize media coverage is simply breathtaking. Since the end of the DNC nine days ago the US politics posts on my social media news feeds have been 95% Trump, with Hillary barely an afterthought. E.g. the bizarre New York Post cover photos of Melania in the nude, which were clearly authorized by Trump: the only manifest purpose was to keep the focus on Trump and divert attention from Hillary, even if the photos would not be well-received on the right.
The sharp anthropologist Sarah Kendzior has a fine essay in Foreign Policy (August 3rd) on how, win or lose in November, Trump’s “toxic legacy will live on.” And that toxic legacy will include the unabated rise of white extremist and hate groups, the linking of economic discontent with white populism and ressentiment, and the continued debasement of the media, for whom Trump has been so lucrative to their declining bottom lines. As Kendzior says
When the Trump train grinds to a halt, mainstream outlets will see more lost funding and more layoffs, leading to poor coverage of the new administration and an even more fractured political discourse. The media has learned that the exploitation of violence, riots, and bigotry brings clicks and cash. This is not a new lesson — as the old saying goes, “if it bleeds, it leads” — but the 2016 campaign has shown the mainstreaming of extremism to be uniquely lucrative.
On Hillary: in addition to dominating Trump in the polls, her personal popularity numbers are now in the mid 40s (RCP presently has it at+43/-53, with Trump at +33.8/-60.8). As Bernie Sanders voters continue to coalesce around Hillary—and with Bernie issuing strong statements supporting her—her numbers are sure to rise a few points more. A certain number of Hillary haters will cease hating (and regardless of clumsy responses she gives to time-wasting questions from reporters on the irrelevant email business, which will be a non-issue by the fall).
Let me recommend just two articles, both by Vox’s Ezra Klein: “It’s time to admit Hillary Clinton is an extraordinarily talented politician” (June 7th) and “Understanding Hillary: Why the Clinton America sees isn’t the Clinton colleagues know” (July 11th). The latter one is particularly worth reading. I do believe that Hillary Clinton, in the uncertain event she obtains a working majority in Congress, has the potential to be a great president.
And in case one missed it, see these two pieces from June: “The most thorough, profound and moving defense of Hillary Clinton I have ever seen,” by a writer named Michael Arnowitz, and “I was one of the most ardent Hillary haters on the planet…until I read her emails,” by Karoli Kuns, managing editor of the Crooks and Liars website.
Three final links. Do check out writer David Auerbach’s lengthy but most interesting essay (July 26th) in the academic blog Crooked Timber, “Donald Trump: Moosbrugger for President.” And definitely don’t miss the piece in Vox (July 18th) by the indispensable Norman Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann, “The Republicans waged a 3-decade war on government. They got Trump.” And if one has not seen Jane Mayer’s amazing article in the July 25th issue of The New Yorker, “Donald Trump’s ghostwriter tells all,” read it. Now.
UPDATE: Cognitive linguist George Lakoff, who teaches at UC-Berkeley, had a must read piece in HuffPost, dated July 22nd, on “Understanding Trump,” or, more specifically, on understanding Trump’s supporters. Hint: it’s about the authoritarian personality.
2nd UPDATE: If one is still interested in the Hillary email affair and wants to read just one piece on it, then see Fred Kaplan’s in Slate (July 6th), “The Hillary Clinton email scandal was totally overblown.”
If one wants another piece, go to Eli Lake’s Bloomberg View column (July 5th), “The conservative case for letting Clinton skate.”
3rd UPDATE: A friend has sent me a post, dated July 31st, on Slate’s language blog Lexicon Valley, devoted to a single sentence Donald Trump uttered in a speech in South Carolina ten days earlier. Watch or read it and marvel. Sarah Palin is almost Demosthenes in comparison.
4th UPDATE: Reihan Salam, the youthful, thinking-outside-the-box conservative intellectual, has a column in Slate (August 4th) on one possible upside to the Trump phenomenon, which is how “Donald Trump is liberating the GOP from its most deeply held beliefs.” The lede: “He’s against the Iraq war. He’s for big government spending. He’s anti–Wall Street.”
I’m dubious, though, as Trump is against (or for) something one day, then for (or against) it the next. He has no fixed beliefs or positions on anything. And it’s rather unlikely that the GOP will modify its tenacious positions on issues like taxes and “small government” just because of Trump—and particularly if he suffers decisive defeat in November.
5th UPDATE: Vox’s Matthew Yglesias had a piece on July 28th, before Hillary Clinton’s DNC speech, observing that she “is bad at speeches for the exact reasons she’d be a good president.” Among the factors that make her not a great orator, but would an effective president, is the value she attaches to collaborative work. Interesting argument, and no doubt valid.