16 September 2015
There's going to be another debate for Republican presidential candidates tonight. Many people will watch to see Donald Trump stick it to the other candidates, the media, the Democrats, and whomever else they think needs sticking. Many other people will watch hoping to see Trump make a gaffe that will cripple his candidacy. But it should be clear by now that Trump's campaign is just about gaffe-proof. That doesn't mean he'll win the nomination -- I still think that once it comes down to him and one or two others, Trump will lose badly. But he'll lose only because his constituency remains a minority among Republican primary voters, not because that constituency will suddenly repudiate him. Trump's fans refuse to hold him to a standard that they believe was imposed unilaterally and unfairly by the "mainstream media" or the "establishment." It doesn't bother them when Trump fails a "gotcha" test on foreign policy, and as is well known by now, they're not offended by him when prominent others are. I've written before about his fans' belief that the American people need tough talk -- that certain people need to be told they're stupid or weak or whatever. That feeling isn't exclusive to Trump supporters or Republicans, but the other factions don't have anyone as brazen on the stump right now. Another part of Trump's appeal is essentially populist, proving again that populism is more a matter of attitude than any sort of class consciousness. That populist streak among his supporters bristles when pundits mock their man for not knowing about some Iranian general. Trump supporters are rallying to him because they feel he has the character needed in a President, and they suspect that character can't be measured by "gotcha" questions. They probably like to believe that a President-elect can learn the names of the people he'll have to deal with in short order; the important thing is that he already has an idea of how he wants to deal with countries and regimes. A further implication of "gotcha" questions is most likely resented even more. Trump fans -- and Ben Carson fans, while we're at it -- may think that only "career politicians" can memorize all the names of foreign leaders, parties, etc. They probably suspect that "gotcha" questions are designed by the media to show that only career politicians are competent to hold high office. They needn't draw such a conclusion, of course, since thousands if not millions of non-politicians are reasonably self-educated about foreign affairs, but their defensiveness probably reflects their own ignorance of such matters and their fear that their own opinions are unjustly devalued by the establishment. In short, if Trump, with all the advantages of a billionaire, is deemed unfit to be President by the mainstream establishment, what chance have his ordinary supporters to make a difference in an alleged democracy? Trump is flourishing now because people can see him more than any of his rivals as a projection of themselves. He'll still lose because most voters can do without such projection, but Trump would have to do or say something almost unimaginable to lose the support he has now. He'd probably have to come out as gay, convert to Islam, or worst of all, declare himself an atheist to turn them off. Don't expect to see any of that tonight.