By the always great @BruceBartlett:
To save myself from answering this question repeatedly, these are the thoughts I have had about Trump since he became a presidential candidate, which were partly expressed in a Politico article over a month ago.
First of all, I think his support is firm and shows no sign of diminishing. He has already weathered storms such as his criticism of John McCain that would have doomed any other candidate. Anyone who thinks he is the current version of Cain, Bachmann, Santorum or other nutcase that briefly led the GOP field in 2012 is dead wrong.
Keep in mind also that in primary elections, one doesn’t need majority support to win in a field with multiple candidates. And intensity of support is often more important than the percentage. Support for the designated favorite of party insiders is often exaggerated in polls and I think Trump’s supporters are unusually motivated.
Second, Trump’s positions on the issues are largely irrelevant to his success. None of his supporters care whether a wall across Mexico is remotely feasible or that he regularly flip-flops on the issues. What he is selling is attitude and a certain fascistic form of leadership. He will get things done, his supporters believe. And it’s less important what he will do than that he will do something.
Ironically, Republicans brought this on themselves in two ways. To begin with, they grossly oversold what they could do just with control of Congress. The Republican base really seems to have simply forgotten about the presidential veto or the Senate filibuster. They seem to have thought all they had to do was pass bills with a simple majority and they would magically become law. How else to explain voting over and over and over again to repeal Obamacare. It makes no sense unless my assumption is correct.
Additionally, Republicans are suffering from the gridlock that they themselves caused. We all know that nature abhors a vacuum, but I think it abhors gridlock as well. That has always been the appeal of fascism and it would be very foolish to believe that Americans are immune from its attractive qualities of getting things done that need to get done. And let us not forget that Trump is talking about genuine problems even if his solutions are simplistic or even wrongheaded.
My third point in Trump’s favor is his willingness to fund his own campaign and ability to run such a campaign on the cheap. By the latter, I mean that he started his campaign with close to 100% name ID and he has the amazing ability to get massive free media exposure any time he wants it. The mainstream media seem powerless to ignore the newsworthiness of anything he says about anything at any time in any place. In lieu of a traditional campaign staff, all Trump needs are the PR people he has long employed, a scheduler and a pilot for his plane.
Related to this, I would note that Trump has a very powerful ally in the form of talk radio. Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin have been especially strong in their support for Trump, in part because Trump’s base and theirs are one and the same. It is extremely valuable to any candidate to have such a megaphone at his disposal, whipping up support, attacking his enemies, explaining away his mistakes etc. This also explains why Trump can treat Fox News with the disdain it deserves. It helped create the Trump monster, thinking he could be controlled, and discovered to its horror than he cannot.
Fourth, as a consequence, the traditional means of controlling an out-of-control candidate are not available to the GOP leadership. They cannot deny him media exposure or money or organizational support because he doesn’t need them. Moreover, the anointed GOP nominee, Jeb Bush, has turned out to be a remarkably poor politician. His ineptness makes me wonder how he ever got elected dog catcher. And the rest of the GOP field lacks the name ID or support to catch up. But, importantly, because several have deep pocketed supporters, they too can afford to stay in the race indefinitely, keeping the field divided to Trump’s advantage..
This means it is very unlikely that the stop-Trump forces can coalesce around one candidate. The field will remain divided until the end, meaning that Trump needs no more support than he has now to win the nomination. As I have said repeatedly, the key to understanding Trump is not the ceiling on his support, but the floor, which appears higher than the ceiling of all the other candidates.
Lastly, I think many Republicans simply delude themselves that Trump is not a serious candidate who cannot, for some reason, get the nomination. I say, don’t underestimate his ego, which we know is and always has been enormous. If he can win the GOP nomination, why shouldn’t he go for it? I would also point to the example of Wendell Willkie, a very Trump-like candidate who won the GOP nomination in 1940. Then as now, he took advantage of the fact that as the anti-government party, Republicans are unusually attracted to non-politicians.
I am not yet ready to predict that Trump will be the GOP nominee, but I am disinclined to bet against him. I honestly don’t see how any of his current opponents can beat him. I think his odds of winning the nomination are better than even. Whether he can win the general election is another question that I will discuss at a later date.
Final note–the Democrats’ growing disarray plays into Trump’s hands because it reduces the importance of electability as a prime requirement for the GOP nominee.