Thursday, August 27, 2015

Why Donald Trump ('s candidacy) is Making America Great Again

Writey, thinky types of the political persuasion have been paying Donald Trump an awful lot of attention. Much of the media narrative involves gobsmacked wonder—both at the phenomenon of a defiantly unqualified Trump leading Republican primary polls, and the heady idea that years of GOP leadership detaching their politics from reality has finally bitten them in the butt.

And, I mean, yeah.

Having thoroughly convinced their base that ideological assertion trumps verifiable reality, and personal wealth correlates with fitness to lead, Trump is a shark among minnows. He is richer than the rest of them put together, and fearlessly piles one bold-but-baseless assertion on top of another. He has no coherent policy plans, cannot be held to anything he says and insults anyone who dares question him.

Here's the rub: Trump is as much a creation of the "liberal media" as the GOP zeitgeist. The divorce of politics from policy isn't just a tool for the super-rich to get people to vote against their interests. It's also a product of years of breathless navel-gazing by political media who long ago lost touch with the voting public.

Here's a perfect example: Leon H. Wolf's "The Awesome, Terrible Majesty of a Donald Trump Press Conference" at
When I think of the gaffes that have sunk other candidates–whether it was Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) drinking water, or Rick Perry saying “oops,” George Allen saying “macaca,” or Scott Walker refusing to answer questions that didn’t interest him, it’s amazing to me that Donald Trump is left standing at all.
Get ready for another stunner: Voters never really cared about any of those "gaffes," and none remember them today. The water-drinking thing rang a faint personal bell ("Oh yeah! All those Poland Spring memes on Twitter"), but I'd never have remembered it was Rubio if you hadn't told me.

I'm generally quite political and very much hyperconnected, and the vast majority of these "gaffes" are only gaffes to the professionally obsessive, the kind that bring atomic-level forensic analysis to bear on every word every politician says. This is why Trump is so great: He completely defeats modern political media's ability to cover him.

Watching Donald Trump speak and answer questions, though, is like watching a billion targets appear in the sky all at once, for a political opponent. Each thing he says is so bizarre, or ill informed, or demonstrably false, or un presidential in tone or character, that it becomes impossible to know which target to lock on to or focus on. And to the extent that he makes a policy statement, it is so hopelessly vague and ludicrous that it’s impossible to know where to begin, at least within the context of the 30-second soundbite that the modern political consumer requires (and chances are, he will say something diametrically opposed to it before the press conference is over anyway).

Donald Trump is the political equivalent of chaff, a billion shiny objects all floating through the sky at once, ephemeral, practically without substance, serving almost exclusively to distract from more important things – yet nonetheless completely impossible to ignore.
Trump is impossible to ignore not because he's fascinating—remember, some outlets proactively announced they were going to ignore him—but because he's polling so well. Many of the actual people whom this whole process is actually about started deciding they just might like Trump better than any of the others.

And why not?

When Jeb Bush, the most serious of serious candidates, answers the question "How, specifically, will you achieve your impossibly high job-creation goals?" with simpering, dishwatery nonsense like "We should have lofty spirits because this is America," why wouldn't you vote for the guy who'll point at Bush and call him a loser?

When the rest of the field is so gutless, so adrift, so bereft of vision or capability that they all rushed to disown the 14th Amendment after Trump said some racist nonsense that polled well with racists, they all deserve exactly what they're getting: a heaping helping of his tailpipe smoke.

Media types are scrambling to try and figure out how to convince America that the emperor has no clothes, but as he'll remind you, he's dressed in the finest suits money can buy. In fact, Trump's doing the opposite: He's pointing out the media wear no clothes, and haven't been for quite some time.

Nate Silver briefly pantsed the Beltway a few years back, with his Magical Wizard Divination Sorcery of averaging poll data, but the lesson wasn't learned. Just as the GOP leadership cannot mandate our society reflect the Norman Rockwell Fantasyland they love to pretend it once was, the media cannot cover political candidates as if voters actually know or care how their laws or sausage are made.

There are plenty of one-issue and one-party voters, and billions of ad dollars will be raised and spent fruitlessly trying to energize and/or sway them. In the end, people still vote according to their values, according to their perception of their personal welfare and–maybe more than anything else—whether or not the candidate resonates with them.

As Vox recently noted, this doesn't coincide with Washington's idea of "likability." Joe Biden seems to be beloved by colleagues and media but has never, ever been liked by voters. Bob Dole's dry wit was supposed to have been legendary among his peers, but it never came across on camera. When people see someone with confidence and charisma say they know how to make America great again, it's a powerful hook—even if the words and ideas don't stand up to scrutiny.

I voted for Clinton over Obama in 2008 because as much as I loved Obama's vision for America, he didn't have a viable plan for realizing it. Yet Obama stomped Clinton because people fell in love with him and the America he wished existed. Is it really so hard to understand we're seeing a red-state equivalent?

Yes, actually Trump winning the general election would be our nation's doom, a disaster of governance the scope of which I cannot fathom—yet, I thought the same about Jeb's big brother. I distinctly remember Jon Stewart calling Dubya "unelectabubble" after one of his countless pronunciation gaffes. He went on to win two terms, and with the exception of a few thousand US troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis, we all pretty much lived to commiserate about it.

I don't think Trump can win the general election. I don't even think he can win the GOP nomination. Why? Because the concerted effort to tear him down by everyone connected to professional politics has 15 months to do it. If he doesn't self destruct, they'll eventually rip him apart.

For once in so long I can't remember, we'll have achieved something through bipartisan cooperation in service of the long-term interests of the Republic.

See? Trump CAN make America great again.

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