“How could Nixon have won? Nobody I know voted for him.” —Pauline Kael
The quote is tongue-in-cheek and somewhat apocryphal (Kael, a highbrow film critic for The New Yorker, was aware of her own elitist bubble) but it is apropos to the Trump phenomenon.
Over Christmas break I had a conversation with our traveling correspondent, Argos (see his reports from Belgium, Jordan, and Sweden). A white collar, pragmatic conservative not given to flights of fancy over winning the culture war through legislation, he expressed some discomfort with the Trump’s boorishness and doubts over his electability. I caught up with him the other day to discuss the subject again.
The mood has changed and it’s telling, though anecdotal. Simply put: if the election was tomorrow, he’d vote for Trump in a heartbeat.
- Trump has no strings attached, no obligations, he doesn’t owe anyone anything.
- Trump is a deal maker.
- Trump is a repudiation of the Republican establishment.
A strong anti-establishment streak ran through Argos’ comments. And he knows and likes a US Senator personally, but wouldn’t vote for the guy over Trump. The frustration is palpable. The Establishment doesn’t get stuff done. They talk and talk but are moribund (see Jebs! numbers). The fact that the Establishment has begun to cave even as thought leaders like National Review have gone ballistic (Argos, “I loved NR back in the day but they’ve become pathetic”) more than suggests the party’s influence is waning among its constituents.
But this is more than a revenge vote for Argos. When was the last time we had a president who didn’t owe anyone anything? A brief perusal of the HBO show Veep highlights the farce of political decision making: dependent on special interests and political alliances, no one in DC actually makes a decision for the good of the nation. Instead, politicians defend their faction and local interests in order to win reelection.
This horse-trading is the nature of the trade, but here’s where the going gets good for Trump: he’s a horse-trader with no debts to the establishment or anyone else. This uniquely positions him to represent the nation’s interests and supports his claim that he’s greedy, but he’s greedy for the United States. The tough guy peddling the winners-losers mantra has scratched an itch, and after eight years of “the soft, global citizen crap”, the message is resonating with Argos who loves the simplicity of the question: what is best for America? Full stop.
Now, as Robert Gates points out, there’s a big difference between making deals with foreign powers and business competitors. Argos knows this. But the Republicans haven’t been getting anything done, anyway, so why not take a shot with Trump?
Two other thoughts: Argos appreciates a straight talker and has little patience for the intolerant, apoplectic, self-defeating thought police raging on college campuses and to a lesser extent in the mainstream media. Trump is boorish, but his opponents are complete prudes. They’ve sown the wind, and now are reaping the whirlwind. The Trump vengeance vote against the Republican Establishment extends to the Leftie Establishment.
Second, Argos’ vote for Trump is non-ideological. One of his friends objected that Trump used to be pro-choice and is still so for cases of rape and incest. Argos, ever a pro-lifer: “I don’t care! I don’t care!” Now this automatically invalidates his pro-life credentials to some, but he has a point. First, people can change their opinion, right? Such changes used to be mocked as flip flopping. But Trump transcends that narrative: he’s selling himself as the Mr. Fixit who can adapt, change, and make America great. Prosperity and power, not ideological purity is what he’s selling. All the finer points of conservative (and even liberal) doctrine become irrelevant. In this way, oddly enough, the very traits that would undermine a conventional politician only enhance Trump. Its jujutsu and the bypassing of ideology.
Argos realizes that Trump is hardly the ideal candidate. If he could bring back Reagan from the grave, he’d vote Reagan (a fact that highlights how pathetic the Republican Party has become as of late.) And yet, if voting is an exercise in choosing the least worst candidate, Trump is the guy for Argos.
PS: See also Yath00m’s satirically serious breakdown of the Trump phenomenon here: Donald J Trump: The Artist is Present