I know readers think I’m too negative about Donald Trump’s chances of winning the presidential election. Everyone from his affirmative supporters to those horrified by the thought of a President Hillary Clinton wants positive takes focusing on the good signs for his campaign. Those are the same signs I fell for the last time around.
In 2012, I had a “Why Romney Won” article almost ready to go. It was full of commentary about limitations of telephone based polls, media bias against Republicans, and voting against Obama rather than for Romney. It also mentioned the power of American optimism, which I belatedly realised I’d forgotten in my time overseas.
Obviously, I never had need to polish that piece. I admit that much of my pessimism about Trump and the GOP comes from my intention to avoid making the same mistake twice.
I am no longer naive about American optimism in Republican leadership or the base. As we’ve seen from the latest in a long line of Congressional Republican capitulations, (this one includes public funding for the US’s main abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, and the Obama Administrations’s letter on Title IX ) and as shown by the grassroots call for a president who manipulates the system in their favour instead of for the usual victims, there’s nothing about American ideas of law and government left in the dead elephant.
People rally to ideas, not policies, and I am not going to pretend that Republicans have offered any. They assume that a silent majority of Americans will vote on the economy, and by extrapolation, immigration. A not-so-silent minority will vote that way, but they’ve already made their intentions known. For the still-undecided, the election will break on other things.
Jonah Goldberg at National Review is always good for a colourful analogy, and he provided one last week:
“[Trump] wasn’t just the outsider coming into town to blow things up, he was Godzilla smashing all before him. In the standard Godzilla movie there’s always that scene where the hapless Japanese army tries to lure the beast toward some electric power lines. Godzilla takes the bait and bites the power lines. But the shock doesn’t kill him, it makes him stronger! That was Trump in the primaries. Mangling metaphors somewhat, people told him “You can’t chomp those power lines! Those are the third rails of American politics!” Trumpzilla cared not, bit them, and got stronger. But here’s the problem: Everyone thinks Godzilla is cool when he’s fighting Monster Zero or swatting away fighter jets. But when they have that close up shot of Godzilla’s clawed foot coming down on a child or a screaming woman, all of a sudden, you can’t cheer the King of Monsters. So it is with Trump: He wins when he punches up. He loses when he punches down.”
As we’ve seen, Trump is the kind of guy who punches down whenever he can. He has no intention of changing that, something that commentator Virginia Hume noted during last night’s Vice Presidential Debate.
Trump’s running mate Gov. Mike Pence is the only talented politician in this year’s field. As previously discussed, Hillary Clinton has not a touch of her husband’s talent. She has ambition and a talented team drilling her, and after a quarter century of practice and with Godzilla for an opponent, she’s finally managed to look real rather than robotic. Sen. Tim Kaine, her running mate, is canned and trite. His performance at the VP debate grated on the public’s already frayed last nerve. Thus, polished and prepared Pence won the debate easily. His performance was so good that many sent wistful tweets about Pence for President. (My favorite was Amanda Carpenter suggesting that Republicans could raise some funds selling Trump/Pence bumperstickers with Trump crossed out.)
How will Trump react to this? Odds are, not well. Trump is used to his position of superior power. Between money and name, he’s usually had it. Now he’s backed into a corner.
I suspect he learned all the wrong lessons from his poor debate show. He has probably berated his political staff for telling him to hold back last time. And now his second outshone him? He’s going to come out swinging in the town hall.
Swinging will delight his base but will do nothing to endear him to the shrinking number of undecided voters. If aggression worked on them, it would have done so already. He will repel them, and they, thinking of the silver lining of breaking the last and greatest glass ceiling, will hold their nose and vote for the woman.
That’s the American optimism that tripped me last time. I’d been living overseas and I simply forgot that Americans like happy endings — and we will dig though layers of muck and crap to find one.
(Image: Gage Skidmore)