I’m writing a much longer piece on Trump. In the meantime, some clips from the cutting-room floor.
1. At last night’s debate, Trump said of Rubio, “And he referred to my hands—if they are small, something else must be small—I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee you.” Lest you think we’re tumbling down a new rabbit hole here, once upon a time, the king’s body and the body politic were thought to be, if not one and the same, then in some kind of alignment. Trump’s reference is as much pre-modern as it is post-modern. Ernst Kantorowicz’s classic book on the topic, The King’s Two Bodies, was subtitled “A Study in Medieval Political Theology.”
In any event, I’d rather hear Trump’s opinions about his penis than his views on Muslims and Mexicans.
2. You often hear that the rhetorical brutality of Trump is unprecedented. Never before have we seen a candidate so cruel. I’m not so sure.
You also hear that we’ve never had a leading politician who so shamelessly, if rhetorically, flirted with violence. Again, I’m not so sure.
As this ad from the 1964 presidential campaign suggests, this is hardly the first time a leading GOP candidate has freaked out the GOP establishment with his swaggering rhetoric and unsavory associations.
Here are some excerpts from the ad, which features a Republican voter saying he won’t cast a ballot for Goldwater in the election:
I certainly don’t feel guilty about being a Republican. I’ve always been a Republican. My father is, his father is, the whole family is a Republican family. I voted for Dwight Eisenhower the first time I ever voted, I voted for Nixon the last time. But when we come to Senator Goldwater, now it seems to me we’re up against a very different kind of a man. This man scares me. Now maybe I’m wrong. A friend of mine has said to me, listen, just because a man sounds a little irresponsible during a campaign doesn’t mean he’s going to act irresponsibly….
The hardest thing for me about this whole campaign is to sort out one Goldwater statement from another. A reporter will go to Senator Goldwater and he’ll say, Senator, on such and such a day, you said, and I quote, blah blah blah, whatever it is, end quote. And then Goldwater says, well, I wouldn’t put it that way. I can’t follow that. Was he serious when did put it that way? Is he serious when he says he wouldn’t put it that way? I just don’t get it….
When the head of the Klux Klux Klan, when all these weird groups come out in favor of the candidate of my party, either they’re not Republicans or I’m not.
3. Speaking of precedents, I don’t deny that there are differences between Trump and conservatives and Republicans past (I’ll be writing about those differences in my piece.) But the notion that you can tell a story of qualitative devolution, that you could look back upon the Golden Days of George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan or Richard Nixon as some kind of sharp counterpoint to the brutality of the man and his movement today, seems overstated.
A few days ago, the Washington Post even pointed to Trump’s embrace of torture and dirty tricks as the mark of his especially dangerous candidacy:
Mr. Trump gives ample reason to fear that he would not respect traditional limits on executive authority. He promotes actions that would be illegal, such as torture. He intimates that he would use government to attack those who displease him.
Oddly, while the Post is interested in making comparisons between Trump and Putin and Chávez, it doesn’t mention the two presidents in recent memory who did torture and who did use government to attack those who displeased them.
Even if you’re only referring to the ambient thuggery that surrounds the man, it’s useful to remember that Reagan launched his 1980 presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the seat of Neshoba County, where Cheney, Goodman, and Schwerner were murdered in 1964. And that, when debating his Republican opponents, he was just as interested in establishing full spectrum dominance as Trump is.
All of which reminds me that in the waning days of George W. Bush’s regime, I mischievously predicted that some day, some establishment pundit like Brooks or Broder, who was alive then, would hold up W as a man of honor and integrity—in contrast to whatever future combination of clown and criminal happened to be ruling the day. The one prediction I’ve ever made—tongue-in-cheek no less—that has come true.
So now I’ll make another prediction, less tongue-in-cheek. If, God forbid, Trump is elected, some day, assuming we’re all still alive, some establishment pundit like Douthat or Dionne will look back fondly, as they survey the even more desultory state of contemporary political play, on the impish character of Donald Trump. As Andrew March said to me on Facebook, they’ll say something like: What a jokester he was. Didn’t mean it at all. But, boy, could he cut a deal.
4. Various Republicans and conservative elites and intellectuals (though not any of the remaining GOP candidates) have been saying that if Trump gets the nomination, they’ll not support him. If they keep their word, this election could look an awful lot like 1972, when a fair number of Democrats backed Nixon against McGovern. With perhaps similar results.
Here’s the classic ad (h/t William Adler) that Democrats for Nixon (a front group, Rick Perlstein informs me) ran.
Interestingly, today it’s national security types who are once again leading the fight against a candidate perceived to be too extreme for the party.
The only way this McGovern scenario actually works—Trump gets the nomination, leading GOP types abandon ship, and the party goes down to defeat in the general—is if Clinton gets the Democratic nomination. With Sanders, I’ve little doubt that every Republican and conservative would quickly—and happily—line up behind Trump. It’s only because Clinton does not pose a fundamental threat to core GOP commitments (not no threat, but a fundamental threat) that these apostates from Trump can even think about straying from the fold. In the same way that it was only because Nixon didn’t fundamentally threaten core New Deal commitments—for all the backlash he spawned, he wasn’t willing to fully repudiate the New Deal or the Great Society (indeed, he pushed for wage and price controls and created the EPA)—that he was able to attract Democratic crossover votes, neither does Clinton fundamentally threaten core Republican commitments about big government, military intervention, and the like. When she attacks Sanders for possibly increasing the size of government by 40%, she’s still reading from the Reagan playbook.
So, to play out the scenario: against Trump, Clinton gets elected, like Nixon got elected against McGovern in 1972. And we all know that ended.
5. When Hannah Arendt set out to understand fascism, she looked back to Europe’s history of continental racism and extra-continental imperialism. The working title of “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” in fact, was “Race Imperialism.” Today, journalists and pundits like to claim Trump is a fascist or flirts with fascism. But while commentators will talk about his connections to racism, nativism, and Islamophobia, they seldom mention how his campaign grows out of and reflects a revanchist American militarism. (Jamelle Bouie even claimed that George W. Bush, who more than anyone took American imperialism into the stratosphere, was just the kind of sober-minded establishment voice to put an end to Trump-ish exploits. Arendt would have had a field day with that one.) For these liberal-minded commentators, it’s easier to talk about red-blooded bigots in the sticks than blue bloods in the war machine.
Adam Smith said it best:
In countries where great crimes frequently pass unpunished, the most atrocious actions become almost familiar, and cease to impress the people with that horror which is universally felt in countries where an exact administration of justice takes place.
And then we get Donald Trump.