With Donald Trump’s blowout win in Indiana, you might be tempted to say that it’s all over but the shouting. (Of course, with Trump, the shouting will never end.)
Farewell to the political journalists’ wet dreams of a contested convention, which was never that likely anyway. Goodbye to dreadful Ted Cruz, who found that Carly Fiorina was as much a good luck charm for him as she was for Hewlett Packard.
Hello to a Republican party in complete and total meltdown.
Trump promises to be one of the worst performing presidential candidates in American history. He’s a charlatan who lies, has no coherent policies, and is unqualified for the highest office in the land. Even on the day that he clinched the nomination, he was touting a lunatic conspiracy theory that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of JFK. Trump is, to be blunt, a crackpot, and a dangerous one at that.
But he’s the crackpot that a series of events ultimately had to produce.
Here are five trends that have led to the scariest three words in English: President Donald Trump…
1. The refusal of the Republican party to condemn its fringe elements
For years now, the GOP elite have been trying to have it both ways. They wanted to ride the enthusiasm of the crazies to victory at the polls without explicitly calling out the lunacy. Case in point: the idea that Barack Obama is a Muslim who wasn’t born in the U.S. No sane person believes this to be true. Yet Republican leaders carefully refused to say the idea was nutty. When pressed, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blandly said that “The president says he’s a Christian. I take him at his word.” This is too cute for words, even for McConnell. Of course Queerty readers already knew this. For nearly a half century, the GOP has allowed its fringes to attack the LGBTQ community with impunity, not just to disagree with our ideas, but to slander us as perverts and pedophiles. Trump just capitalized on the fringe much more successfully.
2. The GOP’s long-term effort to delegitimize government
Ever since Newt Gingrich took over as Speaker of the House in 1994, Republicans have been hammering at the federal government (especially the Democratic controlled part) is inescapably corrupt. When Obama took office, this escalated to question the very legitimacy of the president and all of Washington, D.C. As a strategy, this paid some significant dividends, but now the bill is due. The party was too good at making its base hate government. Now the base hates Republicans in government as well. That sentiment doomed traditional leaders like Jeb Bush. Ted Cruz hung on as long as he did only because he positioned himself as anti-establishment. As the man with no political experience, Trump argued that he was the only outsider in the race, which is what the base wanted to hear.
3. The party leadership’s ambivalence about killing Trump’s candidacy
Was there ever a more feckless effort than #NeverTrump? Deep-pocket donors sat out the effort and those few public figures who came out in favor of it could not carry their argument to its logical conclusion. Look at Marco Rubio. He argued vociferously that Trump should not be the nominee. But he couldn’t state the obvious: Republicans shouldn’t vote for Trump in the general election because he’s unfit for the Oval Office. Instead, “never” meant “not right now.” In fact, Rubio is coming around to Trump, showing that the party places a united front above all else.
4. The conservative media painted a frightening picture of a dystopian America
There’s an entire conservative media/entertainment complex that is devoted to serving as an antidote to reality. Black Panthers swarming polling places. ISIS was at the Mexican border ready to enter the U.S. You’ll be jailed if you don’t get Obamacare. Not one of these statements is true, but all of them have appeared on Fox News. And that doesn’t say anything about the ravings of Rush Limbaugh and the merry band of right-wing radio jocks. Republican leaders have played along with this fearmongering, going so far as to suggest that the president was deliberately setting the U.S. up for some traitorous reason. Trump was just that much better at tapping into the fear and the accompanying anger than anyone else because he dispensed with the coded language.
5. The mainstream media does a lousy job at political coverage
Trump may be a political arsonist, but his fires were fueled by plenty of media oxygen. Particularly at the beginning of his campaign, Trump received a volume of coverage far in excess of any of his more qualified opponents. His every outrageous statement was breathlessly chronicled because they generated clicks and increased ratings. Because reporters covered the race as a personality-driven event, Trump got the most attention, because he was the biggest personality. Reporters didn’t feel the need to treat Trump as the political equivalent of the Zika virus or, if they did, felt that wasn’t their call to make. Instead of serving as a bulwark against danger, the media ultimately played it up, because it made for a better story. Experienced with New York tabloids, Trump knew just how to play the media to his advantage.
There are plenty of other reasons why Trump got to this point. Give him credit–he read the climate perfectly.
Now we can expect Republicans to start falling in line. There will be lots of earnest (and untrue) stories about how Trump is becoming more presidential, how he can attract Bernie Sanders supporters who hate Hillary (also untrue), and how he could prove to be the kind of no-labels leader that America is yearning for (untrue isn’t a strong enough word for that nutty idea).
All signs point to Trump sustaining a massive electoral defeat and helping down ticket Democrats at every level. Expect a Democratic senate and a rare opportunity to advance LGBTQ civil rights legislation in Congress. But that he’s even within striking distance of the White House is a testament to the political climate that has been festering in the GOP for years. In 2012, it took Mitt Romney far longer than it should have to clinch the nomination despite having every advantage over a field of pathetic opponents. As it turns out, that was just a trail run for this year.
The only difference is this year, the pathetic candidate is the nominee.