Back in early July I took to the op-ed pages of the Los Angeles Times to analyze the phenomenon of Donald Trump, placing him in the context of business-protest candidates past like Ross Perot, and predicting confidently at the end that “He’ll be gone by Thanksgiving.”
With turkey carving 48 hours away (mine is brining peacefully right now), it doesn’t look like my prediction is going to come true. I can hear it already: “So who’s the turkey now, Hayward?!”
I still say Trump won’t make it to the nomination, but right now I’m only about 60 percent confident of that outcome, rather than the 99 percent confidence level I had last summer. I remain confident that Trump would make a terrible nominee and almost surely lose the election to Hillary, despite the polls showing him ahead right now. But having been wrong already, it is conceivable that he could brazen it out and indeed upset the media and party establishment and win next November, which does offer some satisfactions.
But I remain 100 percent confident he’d be a terrible president who would devastate the Republican Party in subsequent elections. The times call for someone who understands the crisis of our time in considerable depth. Trump shows no signs of the depth required. I look forward to the first time President Trump tries to say “You’re fired!” to a recalcitrant bureaucrat, or to the federal judge who issues an injunction against his emergency border fence. If he was proposing serious civil service and administrative reform I might think otherwise, but when the best he can say is that having a registry for Muslims in America is simply a problem of “good management,” I know he is not serious. The idea that Washington can be fixed by “good management” and better “deal-making” is somewhere below the 8th grade level.
It should be observed, however, that Trump’s staying power owes to two circumstances that the rest of the Republican field (with the partial exceptions of Cruz and Fiorina) do not clearly understand. First, more than Trump’s celebrity is the fact that most Republicans, and a large number of independents, simply have no confidence in our political class any more, and that includes even the very good Republican governors such as Perry, Walker, and Jindal who are already gone before a single primary vote has been cast. This is why they couldn’t get any traction when in previous years governors were typically the strongest challengers for the nomination. Right now people want not just an outsider to Washington, but an outsider to politics itself. This election cycle may be an inflection point for Republicans, and the Trump/Carson/Fiorina type of field may be the future.
Just take in the latest Pew Research Center poll, out yesterday. The money graph:
Currently, just 19% say they can trust the government always or most of the time, among the lowest levels in the past half-century. Only 20% would describe government programs as being well-run. And elected officials are held in such low regard that 55% of the public says “ordinary Americans” would do a better job of solving national problems.
Enter Trump, Carson, and Fiorina. (Of the three, only Fiorina has really thought through the issues and the politics in a serious way.)
Second, the unseriousness of President Obama about terrorism and ISIS plays in to the hands of a large personality like Trump. Absent Obama’s utter failure as a national leader at an obvious moment of international crisis, I suspect Trump’s fade of a few weeks ago would have continued. Instead he has rebounded in the aftermath of Paris. One or two more successful terrorist attacks (especially if there is one here at home) and Trump’s “no more nonsense” persona could put him over the top.