From the sedulous to the surreal in cultural context

Summer of Trump: A Primer

Google’s tracking of the most-searched presidential candidate recently found Sanders on top in Vermont, Oregon and Washington. Trump prevailed in the other 47 states.

Kathleen Hennessey, Los Angeles Times, August 14

 

“You are going to love President Trump.” 

The Donald

 

donald-trump-makes-announcement-at-trump-tower

 

 

Donald Trump has owned the Republican Party’s presidential summer of love. His campaign has swept aside many seemingly formidable right-wing favorites like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz while also displacing ostensibly more “electable” candidates like Scott Walker, Marco Rubio (the subject of recent MoS profiles here and here), and even erstwhile frontrunner Jeb Bush.  Simply put, The Donald has sucked all of the oxygen out of the room.

Earlier this month, the incorrigible billionaire spewed more of what Jon Stewart calls “word-puke” during the first GOP debate.  Writing for MoS, Lauren Thompson correctly predicted Trump’s sexist smears against Megyn Kelly would cost him little among likely Republican voters.  In fact, Trump emerged the big winner from the debate.  According to CNN’s new poll, Trump got a 6% bounce and enlarged his national lead over Bush et. al.  With the support of 24% of registered Republicans (compared with 13% for Bush and 9% for Ben Carson), Trump enjoys a host of advantages (besides his money and unmatched power to capture headlines) that should enable him to continue running strong:

His chief rival, Bush, has suffered a drop in “favorability,” with 42% of Republicans holding “a negative impression”

Trump’s supporters are in awe of the man, with 98% viewing him favorably

Even Republican women — despite his avowed sexism — support Trump (“60% of Republican women have a positive impression, as do 57% of GOP men”)

Trump is owning the key GOP issues, the economy and immigration (“far and away the top choice even among those Republicans who support someone else for the nomination”).

 

For these reasons, the Atlantic City showman is truly feeling his oats.

 

"I'm surprised I'm this high" (Trump, July 22)

“I’m surprised I’m this high” (July 22)

 

As all but the most addled of his fans have long understood, there is no Trump philosophy, platform or program, not in the conventional sense.  His positions are mostly vague and malleable, rendered incoherent by his peculiar adolescent patois (“the projectile vomit of dickishness that comes out of his mouth every time he opens it,” per Jon Stewart).  One could classify some of his views as liberal, moderate, or libertarian (such as his decisive condemnation of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq as a “disaster”), though naturally he gains more traction with his nativist and militarist drivel about deporting immigrants and projecting power in all directions.

Trump says we should deal with the Islamic State (ISIS) by invading Iraq and “stealing” its oil fields, and that Bush’s mistake was invading Iraq when he should have invaded Mexico.  No wall can contain the hot breath of the “Trump doctrine, which he described on MSNBC:

We are going to make our military so big, so strong, so powerful, we’re never going to have to use it, nobody’s going to mess with us.

 

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How to hit that (ISIS)

 

The same phallic imagination gives us Trump’s plan to deport undocumented workers while building “a big, beautiful, powerful wall” along the Mexican border.  Then again, he assures us that his positions reflect intense study “for a month.”

 

Clearly, his dominance of the GOP field owes less to any unique vision or policy chops than to his pointing of sensitive antennae at a rich vein of fury running through the entire body politic.  Americans are desperate, and Trump knows it. Seven years after electing a popular candidate who promised to change Washington and restore hope, voters in both parties join the independents and the non-voters in a broad coalition of the disaffected.

Among Democrats and voters on the left, the populism of Bernie Sanders fuels excitement.  Among Republicans, the hysterical hatred of all things Obama has been eclipsed at last by hatred of the GOP establishment and the leadership in Congress.  The party is saddled with a stunningly low 32% approval rating in a recent Pew Research survey.  In six months, the percentage of Republicans with a favorable view of their party dropped from 86 to 68.  The GOP leadership vacuum all but mandates a Trump ascendancy.

 

While some of Trump’s appeal is beyond sleazy (he has been compared to Howard Stern as a mindlessly sexist, self-promoting, sociopathic bully), Trump embodies the fantasy of millions who yearn for “authenticity,” or at least an unapologetic absence of restraint.  In The Guardian, Trevor Timm rightly finds one of the secrets of The Donald’s success in his freedom to blurt out “truth about some issues the way only someone with no filter can.”  Indecorous though they might be, Trump’s repeated dismissals of his fellow GOP candidates as lightweights is hard to argue with.

And then there are the Super Pacs. Has there ever been a more effective criticism of money in politics than Donald Trump? No one has shed more light on the money-funneling mechanisms for legally bribing politicians since Stephen Colbert. Trump knows wealthy people have inordinate power to influence elections, because he is usually one of them. . . . “I wish good luck to all of the Republican candidates that traveled to California to beg for money etc. from the Koch Brothers. Puppets?” he tweeted. You’re not going to find more truth in any statement this election in 140 characters or fewer.

 

Wielding his bizarre but deadly brand of unchained and independent honesty, Trump has been able to put all professional politicians on the defensive. Mercilessly, he displayed this prowess once more Wednesday night in New Hampshire as he and Bush staged dueling town halls.  Trump’s better attended meeting was, he declared, “an evening of love, it was a love fest, and we all had a great time.” Trump belittled Bush as a “low-energy person,” adding, “I don’t see how he’s electable.”

 

"I can't believe I got the copyright on that one, but I guess I have good lawyers. That's what I do."

“I can’t believe I got the copyright on that one, but I guess I have good lawyers. That’s what I do.” Trump, August 20

 

Will the madness continue?  It’s hard to disagree with Timm that as the campaign unfolds, Trump’s attempts at rhetorical self-immolation will anger millions (and amuse millions more), “But when the conventional wisdom machine then proclaims his campaign can’t possibly survive, remember there is a reason they will once again likely be wrong.”

 

Doubt that?  Ask The Donald, he’ll tell you.  Last Sunday, he told “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd,

I’m running as a Republican. I’m leading as a Republican. I will win. I think I’m going to get the nomination, and if I get the nomination, I think I will be president. And if I’m president we are going to have a great country.

Todd pressed him about the details of his immigration plan. Silly man.  Details are not Trump’s thing.  Bombast is what he’s about and, by default, what this summer’s Republican voters are about:

You’ll be so happy. In four years you’re going to be interviewing me and you’re going to say, ‘What a great job you’ve done, President Trump.’

 

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  1. Mourning in America: The GOP Campaign and MoS, 2015 | MATTERS OF SENSE

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