If Rubio, Bush, or Cruz — or any candidate except for Carson — had the consistent and strong lead in the polls that Trump has had, we’d be talking about the primaries as a coronation rather than as a contest.
Because Trump is a clown and a huckster, because we believe there’s a sane Republican party establishment that has actual power, we trick ourselves into dismissing his chances.
We shouldn’t. That’s not how this works. If he gets the votes, he gets the delegates and he gets the nomination.
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Just as the white demographic shrinks, the angry racist white demographic gets more vicious. And Trump’s message to them is clear: Take your foot away from the brake pedal. Unbuckle your seatbelt. Run all the red lights. Just gun it.
That’s how we’ll make America great again.
Nothing he has has said has hurt him, and it’s likely nothing will.
The craziness he’s playing with is older than democracy. And, to be fair, he’s not the first Republican to play with this. Sarah Palin was there before Trump. The Tea Party is their party. Years ago there was the John Birch Society. It’s nothing new, but Trump has taken it to a new level.
Rational adults know how dangerous this craziness is.
And telling the crazies that there are no limits, that nothing is off the table — that, in fact, the only way to fix the country is through previously-unthinkable policies — is to harm the country.
It further polarizes our politics. It leads to hate crimes. It erodes our moral standing in the world (already so damaged by the Iraq war) and our ability to lead. It provides ready-made fodder for every terrorist recruiter.
Trump is already hurting the country. Getting the nomination — which is utterly possible, perhaps even likely — would hurt the nation yet more.
And if he can get the nomination, he can become President.
Don’t pretend to yourself that he doesn’t actually want the job. He wants the job.
* * *
Trump is not best-understood as a pop-culture phenomenon. We have to take him at face value. He’s a candidate, and he’s winning.