The moment that at first seemed a laughable parody, then seemed a terrifying possibility, then appeared to be a horrific inevitability, is finally here: Donald Trump has taken the Republican nomination, and will be appearing on the ballot in November in the United States. Along the way, he may rupture the American right and trample any hope of a reasonable presidency with an undoubtedly hair-raising VP pick — and he could also take the presidency, if he plays his cards right. While the left may find the nomination oddly comforting in the belief that a pet rock could successfully run against Donald Trump, it shouldn’t sink too far into complacency, because he appeals to something deep inside the frustrated American psyche.
The Republican establishment had quietly resisted Trump for months, reluctant to rally behind him even as he became more and more likely to take the nomination. Shunned by the GOP, Trump happily funded his own campaign and blazed his own rampaging pathway through the debates and the media, taking primary after primary even in the face of things like the National Review’s ‘Against Trump‘ issue, in which some of the greatest minds and heaviest hitters of the modern US right took to the pages of the paper of record for conservatives to plead with their fellow members of the right wing to turn away from a candidate who would destroy the party.
As a nomination became more and more evident, the GOP very reluctantly started to gather its weight behind him, announcing last night as Ted Cruz — the party’s last hope — dropped out that it would be concentrating its efforts on ‘defeating Hillary in November,’ predicting, likely accurately, that November is going to see a Trump/Clinton faceoff. If the party establishment is on board with a Trump candidacy, however, rank and file Republicans have not received the memo.
RedState, a highly influential player in the movement, is already issuing a clear dictate to Congressional Republicans: Stop blocking the Merrick Garland confirmation hearings. Leon H. Wolf argues that it’s impossible for the GOP to take the White House in 2016, raising the spectre of a ‘leftist’ nomination from Hillary Clinton and begging Republicans to settle for the devil they know. For those of us who have nightmares about a Trump presidency, however, the thought of one or more Supreme Court nominations from the star of The Apprentice is bloodcurdling.
Wolf’s prediction about Trump’s prospects isn’t entirely unwarranted in the face of the fact that many Republicans are joining the ‘never Trump’ movement, putting their weight behind Clinton. While ordinary Republican voters likely won’t be enthusiastic phonebankers or party organisers, they also won’t be picking Trump at the polls. According to Politico, GOP strategist Steve Schmidt says that: “a substantial amount of Republican officials who have worked in Republican administrations, especially on issues of defense and national security, will endorse Hillary Clinton in the campaign.”
Donald Trump has accomplished something that’s almost impressive: In taking the nomination, far from unifying the Republican party, as he claims to be doing, he’s created a massive fracture, drawing Republicans out of the woodwork to labour to prevent the thing that a large percentage of the country fears. Moderate Republicans, as well as those with some degree of sense on both national security and domestic policy issues, are aware that Donald Trump would be terrible for the country, dealing out a legacy of damage that would echo for decades.
Some predict that the electoral math isn’t in his favour, and that Trump will have to conquer unreasonable obstacles in November, making it impossible to take enough states to actually win the presidency. Swing states are certainly in play this year, as always, and the belief among some commentators is that it’s simply unthinkable that these states would seriously go Trump in the face of all logic.
They’re wrong. Trump has already successfully bought his way to the nomination, as Justina Ireland noted on Twitter.
A man with this much money is going to collect even more if he reneges on this pledge to turn down donations, because some members of the right will stand behind Trump, and they’ll bring serious money with them. It’s possible to buy elections in the United States, thanks to extremely poor controls on campaign finance, and it’s not unreasonable to think that Trump could accomplish the unthinkable through sheer force of capitalism.
Trump has another thing working in his favour: Democrats are terrible at getting out the vote. While those confidently opining that he has no chance of winning in November argue that ‘no’ voters will turn out en masse, it’s optimistic. During the primaries, Democrats have struggled with pushing voters to the polls, especially when it comes to the Sanders campaign, where promises of big turnout haven’t been reflected in election numbers. Democrats, ever skilled at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, could hinder themselves simply by remaining content in the thought that they won’t need to invest in an extensive campaign against Trump because any sensible liberal or moderate voter would show up on election day unprompted to vote against Trump.
Voters need to be whipped into action and organised — because potential ‘no’ voters may stay at home in the belief that other voters will shoulder the burden for them. Potential ‘yes’ voters, on the other hand, will be organising and turning out in force to support their candidate, bringing the enthusiasm Trump supporters have already demonstrated to the polls in November. Said voters are also going to be responding to Trump’s aggressive rhetoric and dire warnings that liberals are going to ‘steal’ the election, which means that they’re going to be out even when moderates and liberals are not.
Moreover, a number of states are looking at potentially controversial initiatives on the ballot, paired with downticket races Republicans are terrified to lose. Conservatives are extremely talented when it comes to organising on social issues, and they’ll be driving voters to the polls with pressure to vote down any measures that promote progressive causes. Voters will be showing up to the ballot box already for downticket races and decisive votes on initiatives ranging from trans rights to legalising marijuana, and they may well tic a box for Trump while they’re at it.
And, of course, Trump enjoys another advantage: Clinton is perceived as part of the political elite, thanks to rhetoric from both Sanders and Trump. One of the most hated women in US politics will face an uphill battle as she attempts to drive voter turnout, woo moderate voters, and secure the conservative voters who claim that they’ll support her over Trump, but may not actually put that claim into action. Clinton is fighting sexism and complacency, and a culture where a growing number of people identify her as elite and therefore as an outsider who is out of touch with their reality. Look, for example, to the amusement over her bumbling in the New York subway, in which the media made much of the fact that she struggled to use a subway card — something any stranger to New York does every day regardless of class and status in the halls of power.
Trump has the power to bring out conservatives who feel oppressed by the political system, and that’s a power that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s one that he has leveraged time and again at rallies, and as the decisive nominee fixing his sights firmly on Clinton, he’s going to ramp up that rhetoric. Do Democrats have a counterstrategy in place?
Photo: Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons