Is There a Method to Trump’s Madness? [with comment by Paul]

Paul noted yesterday the bizarre and disquieting attack Donald Trump made Tuesday on New Mexico’s Republican Governor Susana Martinez. Is there an intelligible reason he might think this is a politically shrewd thing to do, or is this just another example of Trump improvising as he goes and letting loose some inner misogyny?

I don’t know whether Martinez is a good or a bad governor. I’ve heard both, but haven’t had the time to investigate it much. I suspect it’s a balanced scorecard. But even if she’s been a bad governor, you’d still want the help of Republican governors in states that might be in play in November, and New Mexico has been close in some recent elections.

In the same appearance, I note that Trump once again talked about how Bernie Sanders has been poorly treated by the Democratic Party, suggesting Bernie should run as an independent, which would guarantee Trump’s victory. That calculation is transparent and rational, if remote.

Maybe Trump is actually running as a de facto independent. Certainly in his issue stands he’s departing from Republican orthodoxy. He says he’s open to higher income taxes on the rich (depending on the time of day), flirts with outright trade protectionism, threatens to upend the entire architecture of our postwar alliances, and—the most important departure of all—pledges not to make any changes to key entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicare), whose dominant share of the federal budget and inevitable insolvency cannot be avoided for very much longer.

It is possible to make out some shrewdness if not seriousness to some of these positions. Michael Lind, whom I often find tedious and annoying, has an interesting article up in Politico this week showing that Trump’s positions on many of these issues are actually closer to the majority views of rank and file Republican voters:

In March of this year, a Pew Research Center poll showed that 68 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters opposed future reductions in Social Security benefits — almost the same amount of support found among Democrats and Dem-leaning voters (73 percent). Republicans who supported Trump were even more opposed to Social Security benefit cuts, at 73 percent. And even among those who supported Kasich, 62 percent opposed cuts in Social Security benefits — even though Kasich, himself, is in favor of cutting entitlements.

As country-and-western Republicans have gradually replaced country-club Republicans, the gap between the party’s economic orthodoxy and the economic interests of white working-class voters in the GOP base has increased. House Republicans repeatedly have passed versions of Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which is based on cutting Social Security and replacing Medicare with vouchers.

Except for Trump, all of the leading Republican candidates—Cruz, Bush, Rubio, Kasich—favored some version of the Ryan agenda. By contrast, Trump was the only leading GOP candidate who expressed the actual preference of most Republican voters, declaring his “absolute intention to leave Social Security the way it is. Not increase the age and leave it as is.”

Likewise Trump’s views on trade and foreign policy likely have considerable strength with many Republican voters, which is one reason why he broke from the pack. (Incidentally, if Trump is serious about the trade business, he might propose the following Hamiltonian deal: protection for American workers in exchange for eliminating 80 percent of the government regulations that inhibit new business formation and growth. Let’s see how that divides the Democratic coalition.)

Did he do this out of calculation, knowing that someone who breaks decisively from the usual party pathways would be in a position to score a shattering win in November? If so it might make sense to show his independence from Republican orthodoxy by attacking actual Republicans and not just Republican issue positions. No wonder both party establishments are terrified of him.

I’m skeptical that Trump has thought it through this way. The dismissal yesterday of a top campaign strategist, alongside persistent stories of infighting among his top two campaign managers (Lewandowski and Mannafort), is not a good sign of Trump’s control of things. Every White House has its share of senior staff rivalry and infighting, but campaigns aren’t usually as fraught as Trump’s seems to be. Political management is not the same as business management, just as political compromise is not the same thing as business deal making. To what extent does Trump understand this? I don’t think anyone besides Trump knows, and he may not even know the questions.

PAUL ADDS: By attacking Martinez, Trump might have been sending this message to elected Republicans who haven’t endorsed him: Get on board or I will come after you where you live.

I don’t think the message is likely to have its intended effect (assuming this is what Trump intended). Elected Republicans probably believe that Trump needs them more than they need Trump.

Thps view could change if Trump pulls clearly ahead of Hillary Clinton. Right now, though, I don’t think elected Republicans are afraid of Trump except in the sense that they fear his negative effect on the Party.

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