Why Donald Trump Causes Me to Despair

Trump Dan McLaughlin tells us that we should not despair over the continued potency of the Trump for Dictator President campaign, because there is no way that Donald Trump will actually become the presidential nominee of the Republican party. I agree that Trump will not be the Republican nominee, but there continues to be a case for despair.

That case is as follows: Hillary Clinton is, quite frankly, an awful candidate for president of the United States. She is a false and clumsy candidate, she is clearly not comfortable in her own skin, her record is replete with scandal and poor judgments, and as Ed Krayewski points out, she is far worse than Trump could ever be, “for practical purposes.” In normal election years, Republicans could rally lots of support for the party, and significantly weaken the opponent they would most likely face in a general election campaign, by concentrating their firepower on Hillary Clinton and her record. And Clinton’s record presents Republicans with an exceedingly target-rich environment.

But Republicans are not talking about Hillary Clinton, and they are doing rather little to soften her up for defeat in November of this year. Why? Because Donald Trump is dominating discussion in Republican circles, and helping Democrats define Republicans as being unacceptable for leadership positions. Instead of using Hillary Clinton’s deplorable record in order to help set the table for a Republican victory in November, Republicans find themselves having to answer for–and deal with–the headaches inflicted on the party by Trump’s candidacy.

Also, there is Trump’s effect on conservatism with which the Republican party must contend. Let’s turn the microphone over to George Will:

If you look beyond Donald Trump’s comprehensive unpleasantness — is there a disagreeable human trait he does not have? — you might see this: He is a fundamentally sad figure. His compulsive boasting is evidence of insecurity. His unassuageable neediness suggests an aching hunger for others’ approval to ratify his self-admiration. His incessant announcements of his self-esteem indicate that he is not self-persuaded. Now, panting with a puppy’s insatiable eagerness to be petted, Trump has reveled in the approval of Vladimir Putin, murderer and war criminal.

Putin slyly stirred America’s politics by saying Trump is “very . . . talented,” adding that he welcomed Trump’s promise of “closer, deeper relations,” whatever that might mean, with Russia. Trump announced himself flattered to be “so nicely complimented” by a “highly respected” man: “When people call you brilliant, it’s always good.” When MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough said Putin “kills journalists,political opponents and invades countries,” Trump replied that “at least he’s a leader.” Besides, Trump breezily asserted, “I think our country does plenty of killing also.” Two days later, Trump, who rarely feigns judiciousness, said: “It has not been proven that he’s killed reporters.”

Well. Perhaps the 56 journalists murdered were coincidental victims of amazingly random violence that the former KGB operative’s police state is powerless to stop. It has, however, been “proven,” perhaps even to Trump’s exacting standards, that Putin has dismembered Ukraine. (Counts one and two at the 1946 Nuremberg trials concerned conspiracy to wage, and waging, aggressive war.)

Until now, Trump’s ever-more-exotic effusions have had an almost numbing effect. Almost. But by his embrace of Putin, and by postulating a slanderous moral equivalence — Putin kills journalists, the United States kills terrorists, what’s the big deal, or the difference? — Trump has forced conservatives to recognize their immediate priority.

In 2016, a Trump nomination would not just mean another Democratic presidency. It would also mean the loss of what [William Howard] Taft and then [Barry] Goldwater made possible — a conservative party as a constant presence in U.S. politics.

It is possible Trump will not win any primary, and that by the middle of March our long national embarrassment will be over. But this avatar of unfettered government and executive authoritarianism has mesmerized a large portion of Republicans for six months. The larger portion should understand this:

One hundred and four years of history is in the balance. If Trump is the Republican nominee in 2016, there might not be a conservative party in 2020 either.

About the only thing that I would add is that it doesn’t necessarily require a Trump victory for the destruction of conservatism in American politics to take place. The longer Trump attracts national attention, the more conservatism will suffer. Trump may not kill conservatism, but he can help others kill it, and he is doing just that.

As such, there is every reason for worry, if not despair itself.

(Cross-posted.)