My gut tells me that Donald Trump won’t be the Republican nominee in 2020.
In fact, my gut has been telling me that since Trump was inaugurated.
Full disclosure: I also thought Trump wouldn’t win the Republican nomination in 2016—and back then almost everybody agreed with me. Now I’m going out on a limb here.
So, if I was wrong when the Republican establishment was solidly against Trump and his campaign was strapped for cash, why am I sticking to my guns when Trump owns the Republican Party and campaign cash is pouring in from every corner of the union?
My head isn’t telling me that Trump is finished; it’s my gut.
Donald Trump has already lost the leading opinion leaders within the conservative movement: Bill Kristol, George Will, Jennifer Rubin, David Brooks, David Frum, Rick Wilson and, up until the day he died, Charles Krauthammer. Even George Conway hates his wife’s boss.
The folks who once spoke for conservatism hate Trump; but the American heartland loves the man.
And so long as that remains true, Republican politicians will stand foursquare with their leader. As Jennifer Rubin put it in a recent column, “Perhaps the incumbent cowards would rather risk losing and watching the Senate and White House turn over to the Democrats than speak out against Trump. They’d rather go down with the cult, for at least they might have a shot at jobs in right-wing organizations.”
The Republican Party runs on two kinds of fuel, bags of money from rich white guys who fund campaigns and conservative think tanks, and the passions of traditional white voters.
By “traditional white voters” I mean people who assume the abiding legitimacy of patriarchy and white supremacy. Few of these people use either of these terms, and it has been decades since they have had the luxury of hearing American opinion leaders publicly sharing such heretical sentiments. But if you had been led to believe that the tenets of white male domination were dead and buried, you were dead wrong.
We know this because Donald Trump won 57% of the white vote in 2016. Not all these people are cheerleaders for patriarchy and white supremacy, but if a majority of white voters really believed in racial and gender equality Donald Trump wouldn’t have made it past the first wave of primaries.
To vote for Donald Trump you must believe, at the very least, that crude misogyny and deep racial resentment are tolerable sins.
I say this without nuance or qualification because I have spent most of the past twenty years observing (and occasionally correcting) racial injustice in the courthouses of the small town South. I have witnessed too many all-white juries make five out of two and two. Trump’s win in 2016 surprised me, but it shouldn’t have.
Ever since the feminist and civil rights revolutions of the 1960s, conservative politicians have focused on the tenets of small government conservatism: states’ rights, fiscal restraint, a strong military, support for the Second Amendment and opposition to abortion. Kristol, Will, Rubin, Brooks, Frum, Conway, Wilson and Krauthammer might have quibbled over the details, but they were generally with this program. But when Trump started stemming the flow of non-white immigrants, romancing Russia and paying off porn stars, the leading lights of the conservative movement abandoned ship.
In small town America, no one even noticed they were gone.
Fox News and the Republican Party quickly made peace with the Donald.
On the day Trump won the Indiana primary, effectively sealing the nomination, Lindsey Graham tweeted: “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed…….and we will deserve it.”
Now Graham is Trump’s biggest fan.
Trump survived because he doesn’t use a dog whistle. In fact, he goes out of his way to mock strong women and stoke the fires of racial resentment. Conservative intellectuals have abandoned Trump because they don’t want to be associated with a narcissistic fool. Trump’s wisdom resides in an innate grasp of white fragility. He can smell it at a hundred paces because he is the embodiment of white racial resentment.
I have just finished Christopher Wylie’s Mind-f*ck: Cambridge Analytica and the Plot to Break America. Wylie is the pink-haired Canadian with the nose ring who helped Steve Bannon and company use 87 million Facebook accounts to target and weaponize racist and misogynist males.
Wylie quickly discovered that if you analyzed three Facebook “likes” you could know a person better than his or her workmates. Observe 30 likes and you knew that person better than a spouse. Liberals were targeted with messages disparaging Hillary Clinton as a closet white supremacist and a crook (the goal was to dampen voted turnout on the left). Conservatives, especially conservative males, were fed a steady diet of fake news stories designed to trigger misogyny and to stoke racial resentment. Targets were then introduced to like-minded people who lived nearby and encouraged to share the misery.
Vladimir Putin plugged into Bannon’s scheme because, unable to compete with America militarily, he hoped to exploit the vulnerabilities of the world’s only superpower. The Russians worked behind the scenes to support the British “Brexiteers” out of a corresponding interest in destabilizing the European Union.
Steve Bannon’s strategy was predicated on the belief that a majority of white Americans wouldn’t be put off by blatant appeals to white supremacy. Wylie argues that when Trump is accused of racism his supporters feel that they are being attacked personally. They have moved from agreeing with Trump (this is what I think) to identifying with him at an existential level (this is who I am). This explains why the kind of national outcry that would sink a normal politician simply strengthens Trump’s position. He is the only politician in America with the guts to “tell it like it is”.
What about the evangelicals? Religion has nothing to do with the phenomenon I am describing. Simply compare the voting habits of White, Latino and Black evangelicals and you will understand.
Perhaps there is one religious application, after all.
Christopher Wylie argues that whenever Trump is accused of racism his supporters feel personally attacked. They have moved from agreeing with Trump (this is what I think) to identifying with him at an existential level (this is who I am).
This explains why the kind of national outcry that would sink a normal politician simply strengthens Trump’s position. He is the only politician in America with the guts to “tell it like it is”.
Trump could be characterized as a perverse sort of Christ-figure who is forever being wounded for the transgressions and bruised for the iniquities of traditional white America.
So, with the Republican Party morphing into a Trump cult, why is my gut still telling me that he won’t be re-nominated?
If I understood the basis for a gut feeling it wouldn’t be a gut feeling.
But I’ll give it a shot.
Donald Trump is simply too odious and ignorant to survive even a single term as president. His narcissism may be the secret to his success, but it is also his Achilles’ heel. The man doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.
Sure, no matter what Trump does, 25% of the electorate (slightly less than half of white voters) will stick with him. No question.
But what happens if a new wave of Republican politicians retires in the wake of the impeachment inquiry because the full extent of Trump’s perfidy is brought to light?
Trump has always tried to make the world conform to his screwy expectations and, with the full power of the presidency behind him and nobody left with the guts and good sense to say no, God only knows what he’s been up to?
What happens if God blows the whistle?
Here’s the thing: no one in Washington likes Trump. No one. Not even Rudy Giuliani likes the former reality TV star. People have their reasons for backing him, but, when if the worm turns the only sailors going down with this ship are those without a lifeboat.
So, my head still says Trump will be the nominee; but my gut is telling a very different story.