The late, great columnist Murray Kempton once said the job of daily newspaper editorial writers was “to come down from the hills after the battle is over, and shoot the wounded.” I was thinking of Kempton today, as both the Washington Post and New York Times editorial pages took aim at Donald Trump, who has exuded blood-curdling rhetoric from … wherever … the past few days. The Times said he was a “racist.” No kidding. The Post, more helpfully, suggested that it was time for Trump’s fellow Republicans to criticize him for his gleefully effective efforts to cultivate America’s “low-information” voters.
I’d go a step further: it’s time for Republicans to cull the Trumpster from the herd. It’s time for Republican candidates to answer a reverse version of the question he answered negatively at the first GOP debate: “Will you pledge to support the Republican nominee?” (Trump was then, and may still be, mulling an independent bid for the presidency). The question to be answered now, not just by the Republican candidates, but by prominent Republicans in general—this means you, Reince Priebus: “Is Donald Trump a Republican?” or, alternatively, “Would you support Trump as the Republican nominee?”
This shouldn’t be too difficult a question to answer. We know Trump isn’t a conservative, as the political term of art is currently applied: he is in favor of single-payer health insurance, entitlement programs as they now stand (or enhanced versions of same) and he may still be “very” pro-choice. Oh, he’s also opposed to free trade. Overseas, his policy of “bombing the [y’know] out of” Islamic radicals has the disadvantage of being slightly behind the curve—we don’t know if he supports a ground assault on ISIS, which is where the rest of the Republican field, and Hillary Clinton, seem headed.
He also lacks the essential small-c conservatism of temperament that has been the hallmark of Republicanism since the beginning of the progressive era. He is a libertine and a liar.
What he has is a mouth and a constituency. Much of this constituency–white blue-collar males–was previously Democratic…and it represents a right-wing version of the reactionary left-wing populist balderdash (on trade, government reform, identity politics, censorship of free speech) that has taken hold among liberal candidates in 2016. These over-angry zealots are not a particularly huge or threatening constituency, as Nate Silver demonstrates here. Their support will carry Trump nowhere near the presidency. But it does great disservice to responsible conservatism and, increasingly, to our country overseas.
Trump is clever. Just look at the way he stepped around George Stephanopoulos’ persistent attempt to pin him down on “registering” American Muslims. “Yes,” he said—for refugees. He never addressed the actual question. Arguably, refugees are already registered—they’re certainly vetted, during a two-year process. Why would he play this sort of word game? Because—given his infinite narcissism—he may have already imagined himself as President. Setting up a registry for Muslims would be unconstitutional. Setting up a registry for refugees—well, that already exists. Problem solved!
Trump does tell an occasional truth, though. He said Iowans were “very stupid.” He was referring to Iowa Republicans who had swooned over Dr. Ben Carson. Now, they have de-swooned and Trump is the front-runner once again (with his mini-me, Ted Cruz saddle-bagged in second place). But his evaluation of the local electorate seems downright prescient.