Monday, November 23, 2015

What Is Trump's Game?

I see a lot of Trump in Georges Boulanger, a French populist general of the late 1880s who was the face of broader discontent, but ultimately unable and unwilling to seize power

I have been taking a wait and see approach to Donald Trump in regards of the viability of his presidential campaign.  Yes, he has been leading the polls for months now, but this kind of polling is often inaccurate, and in the last debate he looked disinterested and tired.  I have also wondered about what kinds of ground campaigns he has in the early states, since primaries can be won and lost by doing a slightly better job than others of getting people to the polls, since the number of voters is so small.  Now that we are hitting Thanksgiving and Trump has rebounded after his lackluster debate performance, I am inclined to think, for the first time, that he stands a decent chance of being the Republican nominee.  

What I can’t figure out is what Trump’s game actually is.  Early on I didn’t think he was acting like a serious candidate. I wondered if he had in fact been aiming only for a sideline hobby, then blundered into being the front-runner of the Republican Party by accident. I’ve wondered whether he is trying to start a fascist movement, or if his hateful words are merely a cynical attempt to get support, rather than expressions of his deeply held beliefs.

In any case, Trump has benefitted by breaking a rule that Republicans have followed since the 1960s, a rule I would like to call the Atwater Directive.  As Lee Atwater famously discussed once in an interview, to whip up white resentment in the aftermath of the civil rights era politicians have to avoid racial slurs and direct racist appeals. Instead they have to use dog whistles and make it clear that they want to cut the government in ways that disproportionately hurts people of color.  Trump understands that a large portion of the conservative base has grown tired of this, and longs for racism to be expressed straight, no chaser.

Trump has given them that by breaking a taboo that appears to not apply anymore.  I’ve long thought that at least 15% of Americans are essentially fascist in their political outlook.  If the military overthrew president Obama, made Christianity the official religion, deported millions of undocumented immigrants, and banned Muslims, about that percentage of the population would rejoice. Another 15% would have misgivings, but generally prefer it over the status quo. Trump knows this, and he is exploiting it.  I am still not sure to what end.  I get the feeling that he is a man who enjoys power, and that his goal is less to be president of the United States, but to amass power and get adulation.  He does not seem interested in starting a fascist movement, but a lot of the people who listen to him seem to be.

This does make me wonder what will happen.  Here’s a list of predictions, with my current odds.  I plan on revisiting them in the future.

1. Trump flames out fast
If Trump isn’t super serious about all of this, he just might flame out, unwilling to do the hard work necessary to run for president. If this was all some kind of whim turned into reality, this is the most likely option.
Current Odds: Possible, but not likely

2. Trump wins the Republican nomination
Trump is leading the polls right now, but Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich were in the lead at one time in the last election cycle as well.  I really wonder what percentage of the voters who will actually turn out for a primary vote will cast their vote for Trump.  His appeal is very broad, but is it deep? Trump has benefited thus far from a highly fragmented Republican field.  If the GOP establishment goes all in for Rubio and gives Christie, Kasich, Fiorina, et al an offer they can’t refuse, all while allowing Cruz to appeal to the bark at the moon crowd and thus steal the Donald's votes, Trump’s goose is cooked.  I could even see a brokered convention at this point, crazy as that sounds.  
Current Odds: Very possible but not likely

3. Trump loses in the primaries and runs as an independent
If Trump loses the nomination, does he make a third party run?  This would allow him to be the ultimate troll and take a dump in everybody’s punch bowl.  The Perot run in 1992 just might an inspiration for him.  This is the Republican Party’s worst nightmare, and Trump being the spiteful shit that he is just might go throw with it to give the GOP the middle finger.  On the other hand, he likes winning and hates losing, and a third party run would almost guarantee not winning.
Current odds: highly unlikely

4. Trump wins the presidency.
Of course, he would have to get the nomination first, or put together a third party run.  While Trump has a broad base of support, he also has an even bigger base of opponents.  Unless some crazy scandal would befall Hillary that would actually be true, there’s no way Trump could win a general election.  (Please let this not tempt the fates.)

Current odds: Not impossible but extremely unlikely

Basically I think Trump might win some early victories, but once the Republican establishment gets their act together, he will lose. This prediction is, of course, subject to change. And even if he loses, he has forced others to copy his nationalism and xenophobia, which will be very prominent in next year's election.

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