Jonathan Chait is experiencing his very own #NeverTrump moment. I picture him in my mind, re-reading his piece from early February’s New York Magazine headlined “Why Liberals Should Support a Trump Republican Nomination” with the same look that we saw on Chris Christie’s face, a silent, screaming mask of sheer terror and “take me to my happy place” eyes.
Here’s what Chait wrote then (after his best liberal argument, that Trump would almost certainly lose):
Trump’s candidacy represents, among other things, a revolt by the Republican proletariat against its master class. That is why National Review devoted a cover editorial and 22 columns to denouncing Trump as a heretic to the conservative movement. A Trump nomination might not actually cleave the GOP in two, but it could wreak havoc. If, like me, you think the Republican Party in its current incarnation needs to be burned to the ground and rebuilt anew, Trump is the only one holding a match.
The third reason to prefer a Trump nomination: If he does win, a Trump presidency would probably wind up doing less harm to the country than a Marco Rubio or a Cruz presidency. It might even, possibly, do some good.
Yeah, like drinking bleach will cure stomach ulcers.
And now, Chait has reversed himself, doing a one-eighty as we pilots say.
My previous view of Trump was as a kind of vaccine. The Republican Party relies on the covert mobilization of racial resentment and nationalism. Trump, as I saw it, was bringing into the open that which had been intentionally submerged. It seemed like a containable dose of disease, too small to take over its host, but large enough to set off a counter-reaction of healthy blood cells. But the outbreak of violence this weekend suggests the disease may be spreading far wider than I believed, and infecting healthy elements of the body politic.
I remain convinced that Trump cannot win the presidency. But what I failed to account for was the possibility that his authoritarian style could degrade American politics even in defeat. There is a whiff in the air of the notion that the election will be settled in the streets — a poisonous idea that is unsafe in even the smallest doses.
Liberals and progressives always think they can unchain Leviathan or dig up Godzilla and tame the monster. Over and over again, they’ve advocated unicorn-rainbow solutions using big government planning by elite intellectual snobs with no idea of human nature outside of their Platonic, white-columned theories. And over and over again, those theories, when put into practice, lead to misery, oppression, and tyranny.
So why would we think that liberals should look on Trump as anything else but a lance to the boil of conservative thought? They think conservatives are repressed bigots and strongman-worshippers anyway, so Trump would be a way of exposing those wounds to the air and light of liberal rational thought (an oxymoron), like a disinfectant, or as Chait wrote, a vaccine.
Now Chait has experienced what many in the conservative movement saw long ago: That Trump represents an actual threat, whether by a manufactured persona or his real personality (who can tell which is which?), to honest and civil political discourse. So much so that it’s very likely Trumpism will spread beyond mere GOP politics into the streets–an outbreak of Ferguson and Baltimore-style activism. (“Let’s give the Trumpkins room to riot” said nobody ever.)
A huge majority of the public finds Trump repellent. Some of his current unpopularity is the soft opposition of Republican voters who are currently listening to anti-Trump messaging from party sources and would return to the fold if he wins the nomination. But there is simply no evidence that the country that elected Barack Obama twice, and which is growing steadily more diverse, stands any likelihood of electing Trump. He can and must be defeated through democratic means. He is spreading poisons throughout the system that could linger beyond his defeat. Anybody who cares about the health of American democracy should hope for its end as swiftly as possible.
I am not sure Chait believes what he just wrote there–truly believes it. I agree that a vote for Trump is a vote for Hillary, but the cost of Hillary’s victory won that way, may be too great for even liberals like Chait to contemplate. Better to defeat Trump now–and likely lose to Cruz–than to eat the poison pill.
Welcome to the #NeverTrump club, Jonathan Chait.