I can honestly say that I didn’t think I would be writing a post like this just two months ago when Donald Trump announced that he was running for president. I gave him a month before his poll numbers plummeted, and boy was I wrong. The Donald is surging, leading every other Republican candidate in every national poll. He’s gathered support from thousands of potential Republican voters, and his number continue to climb. He has said offensive things about immigrants, women, African-Americans, prisoners of war, and many prominent political figures, and yet he dominates every poll and every conversation about the Republican nomination. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is a Tea Bagger’s fever dream, but at what cost does this dream come? I have a few answers to that question.
First of all, let’s get something out of the way: Trump isn’t going anywhere. Unless he gets struck by lightning (which I’m not advocating for, although it might straighten out that dead squirrel on his head), Trump will likely coast into the next Republican debate on September 16th. You don’t lead the Republican field by double-digits and suddenly decide you don’t want to run for president anymore. It just doesn’t happen. And we know that he’s sticking around, because regardless of what he’s already said, he’s #1 by a mile. Every time he says something offensive or ludicrous, more and more conservatives cling to him like he’s the love child of Ronald Reagan and Sarah Palin. Trump is a celebrity, and because he’s a celebrity, his campaign doesn’t hinge on his saying something offensive. If it did, he would never have made it off the ground after his announcement speech that was just full of colorful material. So if tomorrow Trump says that we should send Hillary Clinton on a one-way trip to Syria, his numbers will still go up. I can say that he is perhaps the first candidate I’ve seen that can say basically whatever he wants without fear of losing supporters.
That being said, he will take some flak. Okay, he’ll take a lot of flak because he says ridiculous things that get attention — both negative and positive. That is one aspect of his campaign that I find fascinating: he’s basically like one of those trick birthday candles that you can’t put out no matter what you do. He is dominating the conversation, and that doesn’t bode well for the other Republican candidates who want (and need) to have a substantive debate on the issues and policies that will carry each of them through the primary season. Trump, in typical Trump fashion, is stealing the spotlight while basically providing no helpful dialogue or useful input into what is otherwise a very serious and detailed discussion.
Here’s the kicker: Trump literally does not care what kind of damage he causes to the Republican image or to the GOP quest to regain the White House. Watch the video above, and you’ll see how divisive a figure he is because of this one thing. The man doesn’t even have to say anything. He just raises his hand in response to one question (albeit a loaded question that was obviously bait being dangled in front of his face), and the entire crowd loses their minds. Boos, cheers, and a general feeling of “this is never going to end” can be felt in that moment. THAT’S what Trump has done to this race.
Also, I’d like to touch on the third-party run for a moment, since it has become an increasingly hot topic in the last few weeks. Make no mistake: if Trump runs as a third-party candidate, we are looking at the third consecutive Democratic presidential term. Period. Trump will essentially hand the presidency to Hillary Clinton (or even Bernie Sanders, depending on how the Democratic primaries go) on a silver platter. It won’t even matter who the Republican nominee is (again, my money is on Jeb Bush), because Trump will divide Republican voters in such a way that neither the nominee nor Trump can get a majority large enough to beat the eventual Democratic nominee. If you look at the latest NBC poll (which was taken right after the Thursday debate), there’s one question that tells the whole story. Of the respondents who said they plan to vote for Trump, 54% of them said they would still vote for him even if he is not the Republican nominee. Assuming the numbers are accurate, half of his voter base is going to follow him wherever he goes. That one statistic is going to spell doom for any hopes of a Republican presidency.
Just as a caveat, I’d like to point out that I have absolutely zero faith in Donald Trump if he wins the Republican nomination. Trump as a presidential candidate in any form is a cruel joke, but as the officially endorsed candidate of the Republican Party, he has less than a snowball’s chance in hell at winning a general election. At this point, the Democratic nominee will either be Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. I cannot imagine any scenario in which Trump beats either of them in a general election. Ever. At all. Because it won’t happen. Trump supporters would have a better chance at getting a mermaid to do the splits, because it’s a pipe dream that will never be a reality.
The real question here is will he or won’t he? Will he or won’t he actually run as a third-party candidate? Will he or won’t he knowingly pursue that course, which will jeopardize the Republican bid for the White House? That question is being thrown around by basically everyone from Hillary Clinton (who would surely love two Republican contenders if she’s the Democratic nominee) to Republican candidates to Trump supporters. If Trump does actually go through with that, he’s sure to alienate the Republican National Committee, party leaders, and basically anyone on the right who doesn’t already support his craziness.
I think the one aspect of Trump’s campaign that truly terrifies the Republican Party is his absolute and unwavering fearlessness. I went back and forth on what to call his persona, but I landed on this word because it speaks to the fact that while he is absolutely bonkers, he has the cojones to say all these things anyway. Trump radiates narcissism, to the point that (in my humble opinion) he legitimately never thinks that he has made a mistake. He has said many things in just two months that most candidates would be fighting uphill battles to undo, but he has not apologized or clarified any of those statements. Just this weekend, he fired shots at Megyn Kelly and Fox News, accusing them (and particularly Kelly) of treating him unfairly during the Thursday debate. Trump lobbed insults at Kelly, calling her “over-rated” and openly claiming that he has no respect for her as a journalist. This all followed a question that Kelly asked of Trump during the debate. You can see that exchange in the video below.
It’s an honest question, right? Of course you can’t tell that to Trump, who went on to dodge the question and give another of his famously vague answers. But apparently this one question bothered him so much that he went on a Twitter tirade after the debate. He made an appearance (via phone interview) on CNN the next day, in which he continued to insult Kelly and Fox News. As of yesterday, Trump appears to be back on solid ground with the network, following a phone call with its chairman Roger Ailes. Still, Trump wasn’t backing down before this truce came to light, which leads me to believe that he really doesn’t care what is said about him, or by whom it is said. This is dangerous territory for a candidate, even one of Trump’s caliber. As a Republican presidential candidate, there’s basically one network that you want to be on good terms with, and that’s Fox News. You can alienate MSNBC and CNN and even CBS, but Fox News is your stomping ground. It’s where you get your message out to the people who don’t come to your rallies. If you break ties with Ailes and his media powerhouse, you have no pedestal on which to stand and shout whatever nonsense comes to mind. The fact that Trump seems unaffected by the prospect of this scenario is a bad sign.
Beyond that, Trump is dragging the entire conversation far away from policy, leading the other candidates to a discussion about what the GOP shouldn’t be saying or doing. Because his incendiary remarks have gotten so much attention, serious candidates like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio have been forced to take the time to denounce almost every major sentence that comes out of Trump’s mouth, whether it be about women, minorities, or even other politicians (as in the case of McCain, who Trump called a “dummy,” before criticizing his time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam).
In the end, Trump is a nightmare for everyone except Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Republicans find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Voters may be faced with the choice of getting behind Trump’s nutcase candidacy, or supporting a viable candidate and risk a sabotaging independent Trump run. For Republicans, it’s a terrible situation any way you slice it. For Democrats, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened. And for me, it’s damn good television.