Sunday, February 21, 2016
I have to admit, I've been dead wrong about Donald Trump's unprecedented candidacy. I had predicted by now he'd be long gone. That Jeb Bush would win the nomination. And why? Because even though I disagree with Republicans on virtually everything, I held out that the party's voters would eventually get serious, turn off the salacious Trump reality show and, as they did in years past with candidates such as John McCain and Mitt Romney, support a serious moderate who's put forth substantive policy proposals.
I also gave Republican voters more credit than they apparently deserve in assuming they'd ultimately reject Trump for his ad hominem attacks, racist comments and rude, dismissive behavior targeting, for example, Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants, blacks, women, Jews, war heroes, the disabled and even the Pope. I cringed when I heard him at rallies use words like shit, fuck and motherfucker. Almost certainly, I thought, this would accelerate his demise. Conservatives would surely not nominate someone with R-rated rallies, right?
Furthermore, right up through Saturday, I believed that the South Carolina primary would be the place where Trump's bubble would finally burst. I was confident that, in the state where good 'ole Southern evangelicals comprise more than two-thirds of the voter turnout, the bloviating billionaire would be soundly kicked to the curb over his divorces, infidelity, Bible misquote, ethnic ban, 9/11 lie, profanities and, as the Pope pointed out, decidedly un-Christian-like views. But again he won. By an impressive 10 points. The God-fearing folk of South Carolina blessed him with a clear victory.
To be sure, it certainly looks likely at this point that little can stop Trump from winning the nomination. If South Carolina is a barometer of what's to come, it's hard to imagine much of the remaining Bible Belt, the Midwest, the Great Plains and the West not getting behind him. But let's not stop at the GOP nomination. Is it possible that Trump could actually win in a general election against either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders?
The Republican Party has always had a large base of white, blue-collar, uneducated voters. And let's face it, a lot of these people may not be the most racially tolerant (I'm being kind). Fortunately for Democrats, many of them believed their votes were meaningless, and so they typically stayed home on election day. Which might explain why just 50-55% of eligible American voters actually make it to the polls in presidential elections.
To be fair, there are millions of blue-collar, low-income, uneducated Democrats who choose not to vote either. But to stir up the masses to vote, the right has Trump, and he's winning. The left's grass roots messenger is Bernie Sanders, and he is not. Trump's anti-establishment, inflammatory, racist rhetoric has fired up these dormant voters like nothing we've seen in history. But while Sanders' talk of "revolution" has indeed grabbed the hearts and votes of millennials, his "Democratic Socialism" message is not resonating beyond these young idealogues. Which creates a plausible scenario for Trump's path to the White House.
As Ezra Klein wrote after Saturday's primary results, "Donald Trump's run for president has been so wild, so strange, so entertaining, that we've stopped noticing -- or maybe just grown tired of pointing out -- what a dangerous force he is in American politics. And for awhile, that seemed fine -- everyone knew Trump couldn't win, he didn't have a chance, this was all just a big joke. But it isn't a joke. He won huge in New Hampshire. He won huge in South Carolina. This is the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination. And he's a dangerous personality perched atop an ugly ideology. It's time to stop laughing."
Over the past several elections, both parties have consistently put tremendous resources into their get-out-the-vote campaigns. But with Trump, this year's record-breaking GOP turnouts could prove to be a game-changing, history-making phenomenon that lands Trump in the Oval Office. And that should make tens of millions of Democrats, Republicans and Independents very, very scared.