Every sulfurous belch from the molten interior of the volcanic Trump phenomenon injures the chances of a Republican presidency. After Donald Trump finishes plastering a snarling face on conservatism, any Republican nominee will face a dauntingly steep climb to reach even the paltry numbers that doomed Mitt Romney.
It is perhaps quixotic to try to distract Trump’s supporters with facts, which their leader, who is no stickler for dignity, considers beneath him. Still, consider these:
The white percentage of the electorate has been shrinking for decades and will be about 2 points smaller in 2016 than in 2012. In 2008, Barack Obama became the first president elected while losing the white vote by double digits. In 2012, Hispanics, the nation’s largest minority, were for the first time a double-digit (10 percent) portion of the electorate. White voters were nearly 90 percent of Romney’s vote. In 1988, George H.W. Bush won 59 percent of the white vote, which translated into 426 electoral votes. Twenty-four years later, Romney won 59 percent of the white vote and just 206 electoral votes. He lost the nonwhite vote by 63 points, receiving just 17 percent of it. If the Republicans’ 2016 nominee does not do better than Romney did among nonwhite voters, he will need 65 percent of the white vote, which was last achieved by Ronald Reagan when carrying 49 states in 1984. Romney did even slightly worse among Asian Americans — the fastest-growing minority — than among Hispanics. Evidently, minorities generally detected Republican ambivalence, even animus, about them. This was before Trump began receiving rapturous receptions because he obliterates inhibitions about venting hostility.
Trump is indifferent to those conservative tenets (e.g., frugality: He welcomed Obama’s stimulus) to which he is not hostile (e.g., property rights: He adored the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision vastly expanding government’s power of eminent domain). So, Trump’s appeal must derive primarily from his views about immigration. Including legal immigration, concerning which he favors a “pause” of unspecified duration.
Some supporters simply find Trump entertainingly naughty. Others, however, have remarkable cognitive dissonance. They properly execrate Obama’s executive high-handedness that expresses progressivism’s traditional disdain for the separation of powers that often makes government action difficult. But these same Trumpkins simultaneously despise GOP congressional leaders because they do not somehow jettison the separation of powers and work conservatism’s unimpeded will from Capitol Hill.
For conservatives, this is the dispiriting irony: The administrative state’s intrusiveness (e.g., its regulatory burdens), irrationalities (e.g., the tax code’s toll on economic growth), incompetence (Amtrak, ethanol, etc.) and illegality (we see you, IRS) may benefit the principal architect of this state, the Democratic Party. This is because the other party’s talented critics of the administrative state are being drowned out by Trump’s recent discovery that Americans understandably disgusted by government can be beguiled by a summons to Caesarism.
Trump, who uses the first-person singular pronoun even more than the previous world-record holder (Obama), promises that constitutional arrangements need be no impediment to the leader’s savvy, “management” brilliance and iron will. Trump supporters consider the presidency today an entry-level job because he is available to turn government into a triumph of the leader’s will.
This is hardly the first time we have heard the United States singing lyrics like those of Trump’s curdled populism. Alabama Democrat George Wallace four times ran for president with salvos against Washington’s “briefcase totin’ bureaucrats” who “can’t even park their bicycles straight.” What is new is Trump promising, in the name of strength, to put the United States into a defensive crouch against “cunning” Mexicans and others.
Republicans are the party of growth, or they are superfluous. The other party relishes allocating scarcities — full employment for the administrative state.
Trump assumes a zero-sum society, where one person’s job is another’s loss. Hence his rage against other nations’ “stealing” jobs — “our” jobs.
In 2011, when Trump was a voluble “birther” — you remember: Obama supposedly was not born in the United States, hence he is an illegitimate president — an interviewer asked if he had people “searching in Hawaii” for facts. “Absolutely,” Trump said. “They can’t believe what they’re finding.” Trump reticence is rare, but he has never shared those findings. He now says, in effect: Oh, never mind. If in November 2016, the fragments of an ever smaller and more homogenous GOP might be picked up with tweezers, Trump, having taken his act elsewhere, will look back over his shoulder at the wreckage he wrought and say: Oh, never mind.
Disclosure: The columnist’s wife, Mari Will, works for Scott Walker.