We know that Donald Trump has no imagination because he spent years on reality TV. The last original idea on television, I think, was sometime around McGyver or Knight Rider. Maybe the Six Million Dollar Man. Before that, it was Star Trek. “The Apprentice” was nothing more than a retread of Truth or Consequences, with Trump playing Bob Barker’s role as host.
We also know that, as a group, political parties have no imagination. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have seen Bob Dole run for president four times and never win the nomination (despite being the vice presidential nominee in 1976). Dole is a complete failure of imagination. It should be noted that Dole endorsed Marco Rubio, and that’s no knock on Rubio, but an endorsement from a 92-year-old retired Senator is hardly gripping news.
If Trump wins the GOP nomination, or the White House, it will be perhaps the biggest failure of imagination in U.S. political history.
For an entire political party to be hijacked from its foundational principles by a pretender, who has never held any public office, whose own business dealings have him appearing on the witness stand for his role in the Trump University scam is a travesty. It’s an insult to our political system and our heritage. It’s a failure of imagination of galactic proportions.
First, the party leadership (as in Reince Preibus) failed to take Trump seriously. The candidates followed right in line. How could a self-important blowhard whose best known political stunt was joining the Obama birther conspiracy in 2012 be taken seriously? But they failed to see Trump’s star power, name recognition, money and appeal, so they simply predicted his fall and continued with their unimaginative plans (see Jeb Bush).
Second, when Trump began dominating the press with his immigration talk, the press lavished him with hours and hours of free airtime. They made special exceptions, allowing Trump to call in by telephone when other candidates had to appear in person. When Trump went after Megyn Kelly for seriously questioning (1) his commitment to the GOP, and (2) his appalling attitude toward women, the press acquiesced. Trump said that Kelly was “bleeding from her eyes, from her whatever…” and everyone knows exactly what he meant.
Erick disinvited Trump from the RedState Gathering last summer for that remark, which Trump’s campaign first failed to acknowledge at all, then refused to retract or adequately explain. For that, he suffered thousands of hateful and disgusting emails, calls, tweets and even threats to his family. The other candidates, the press, and the party refused to take note of the brownshirt tactics and thuggery of Trump supporters. They didn’t attack him, and continued to predict his doom, while the press loved the ratings.
Third, Reince Preibus kneeled before Zod in presenting Trump with a useless pledge to support the nominee (which Trump can now use against the other candidates if he becomes the nominee), and a priceless appearance with Trump at the billionaire’s gilded tower in Manhattan. It was almost a coronation of Trump as a serious candidate. So while the other candidates treated Trump as a flash-in-the-pan, the GOP gave him a red carpet and credibility.
Fourth, the only people who seemed to believe the polls prior to the first actual votes were Trump supporters. Everyone else thought it was some anomaly or weird bump that would soon go away. We (myself included) were all asking the wrong question, and when we asked the right question, we got the wrong answers. The wrong question was “has Trump peaked?” which is what philosophers call “begging the question”—the conclusion, that Trump will peak, is embedded in the question itself. The right question, “is Trump capped below any possibility of winning the nomination?” yielded answers indicating he was.
Trump’s unfavorables are still very high. Yet he has successfully overcome many of the “scary beyond all reason” arguments against his candidacy, and he’s been immeasurably helped by the media and the inept, almost inexcusable lack of direct attacks from Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. But Cruz played the game correctly, biding his time until he could attack from high ground.
Among Republicans, Trump’s unfavorable polling has remained steady at around 30 percent, and in the mid-80’s among Democrats, but with astounding turnout numbers, for election purposes, we’re in virgin territory.
Fifth, nobody believed (including myself) that Trump could convert his high polling to actual votes. Nobody thought that a national campaign run without a significant ground effort put in place a year before the election would have any chance of gaining traction. And we were all wrong. Trump’s turnout machine didn’t work as well as it could have in Iowa, but he did very well considering his lack of paid staff and quality volunteers.
In New Hampshire, a solid wall of Trump fans hit the polls like a tsunami, creating hour-long lines at some polling places such as Merrimack, a Manchester suburb. In South Carolina, a similar record-setting turnout established a trend: Every state in which Trump is a leading candidate is drawing record numbers of voters to the polls. There’s no reason to believe this will not continue indefinitely, including the Super Tuesday states.
If Trump is leading by double-digits in a state, we can bet on him winning it and even exceeding his polling in some areas.
Sixth, and this is a biggie, many Republicans believe that we should abide by the pledge to support the party’s candidate. Trump supporters wave this in our faces, and it really does make many of us who don’t support Trump into hypocrites. We expected Trump to support the GOP nominee, as long as it was Cruz, Rubio, Carson, or even Bush, Christie or Paul. But now that it looks increasingly like the nominee will be Trump, we’re nonplussed, declare our undying revulsion and pledge to never vote for him.
But we shouldn’t vote for him. And we should not have forced him into signing a pledge which he probably had no intention of keeping in any case.
Going forward, we can’t let the failure of imagination allow Trump to complete his conquest of the GOP–in the process losing every inch of ground conservatives have clawed and bitten in the last 20 years. We can’t let party politics get the better of statecraft. We can’t let wishful thinking, groupthink, or waiting for a miracle cloud our judgment. This is the time for real action.
Whether it’s a sacrificial act by some candidates (Ben Carson, please quit and throw your endorsement to someone who can help conservatives, politeness only helps the bully in this case), or a truly bold and courageous move (Rubio and Cruz, cooperate on this), or a third party, we have to use every tool at our disposal to prevent this catastrophe.
If we don’t, conservatives have nobody to blame but ourselves and our stunning failure of imagination.