Getting back into the swing of things with some low-hanging fruit….
One of the most maddening aspects of our politics is the “style over substance” component; roughly, the “who is saying things better”, as opposed to the “what are they saying” aspect of elections. This dovetails with the obsessive Politico-style horse-race coverage that people have been denouncing for decades, with limited (though not entirely nonexistent) success.
This has ben magnified in the age of Trump, where you have a candidate who spouts wildly-contradictory mumbo-jumbo, and has a relationship with the truth about as solid as one of his marriages. He is someone who feels truth is what he wants it to be, because he’s a spoiled fancylad who surrounds himself with family and grubbing sycophants. So what to do when covering him? For the Wall Street Journal, as with every grasping Republican pol who has tied themselves to him (Paul Ryan), it’s to double down on the style issue, a breathtakingly cynical admission that this is a man completely unqualified to be President.
A Sunday editorial in the Wall Street Journal is the perfect example of this. In what is being praised as a sober and serious consideration of his candidacy, the Journal outlines the problem many supporters have.
They think he should make the election a referendum on Hillary Clinton, not on himself. And they’d like him to spend a little time each day—a half hour even—studying the issues he’ll need to understand if he becomes President.
Is that so hard? Apparently so. Mr. Trump prefers to watch the cable shows rather than read a briefing paper. He thinks the same shoot-from-the-lip style that won over a plurality of GOP primary voters can persuade other Republicans and independents who worry if he has the temperament to be Commander in Chief.
There’s more in this vein, but that’s enough. The Journal then goes on to say this is a winnable race, using math from a political scientist with a great track record, to show that Trump should be winning.
No model is perfect, but Mr. Abramowitz’s has predicted the winner of the major-party popular vote in every presidential election since 1988. His model predicts that Mr. Trump should win a narrow victory with 51.4%. A mainstream GOP candidate who runs a reasonably competent campaign would have about a 66% chance of victory.
(It unfortunately forgets to ask who that mainstream candidate would be: Ted Cruz?)
Then comes the big ask:
If they can’t get Mr. Trump to change his act by Labor Day, the GOP will have no choice but to write off the nominee as hopeless and focus on salvaging the Senate and House and other down-ballot races. As for Mr. Trump, he needs to stop blaming everyone else and decide if he wants to behave like someone who wants to be President—or turn the nomination over to Mike Pence.
There’s a major tell buried in here, a desperate and craven one, and it’s the word “behave”. You see it in every politician, from Mitch to Paul, who have pegged their dreams of a right-wing walkover on this wildly unqualified man. They don’t think he will be a good President. By their own reckoning, as the Journal points out, he’s a shallow, ill-informed, narcissistic disaster, a walking calamity. They aren’t asking him to change; they recognize that’s an impossibility. The man is 70 years old: you think he’s going to suddenly now start being mature?
So that’s the thing. No one thinks that Donald Trump can become a different person. They are saying “Your behavior shows that you are 100% incapable of being the President, but can you, for three months, pretend to be someone different to trick people into voting for you?” That’s far beyond normal political image-burnishing, and a huge step beyond pandering. This isn’t lipstick on a pig. It’s not even making a Potemkin village. A pig has lips (maybe?), and even a Potemkin village has real people. They are distortions of reality, to hide something ugly. But at their heart, they acknowledge reality, at least enough to try to hide it.
The cynicism behind the “behave better” push is of a different stripe. It’s trying to create a new reality altogether. It isn’t putting lipstick on a pig; it’s saying “here’s a good dinner” while holding up a tray laden only with air. It’s pushing a car full of screaming passengers off a cliff while claiming you are building a new city of the future, right on this spot. This is trying to scrawl out the words “real water” into the rock of the barrenest desert and hope people try to drink it.
The only solace here is that their incredible cynicism is rooted in a laughable and pathetic stupidity. Many (including the WSJ) pin their hopes on something he said in April, a variant on a theme he’s been spinning the whole campaign.
However, they insisted that once voters got to know the real Trump, as opposed to the public face he has presented while campaigning and while hosting the NBC reality show The Apprentice, they will warm to him. He said that person was just an act.
Or, as the Journal quoted:
“At some point I’ll be so presidential that you people will be so bored, and I’ll come back as a presidential person, and instead of 10,000 people I’ll have about 150 people and they’ll say, boy, he really looks presidential,”
This has always been the strategy in everything Trump has done: pretend that he can be someone else and hope people fall for it. “I’m a great businessman”; “I can run the casino business so good”; “I can be Presidential when I want to be.” For his whole life, he’s convinced people that the obnoxious idiot was an act. It isn’t: the attempt to convince people is the whole act itself, it’s literally all he is good at. It’s worked breathtakingly well, and the desperate in the GOP and its media wing are its latest marks. They don’t believe he’s actually Presidential. They just think that he can fool other people into thinking he is. In doing that, in trying to perpetuate his con, they are its most foolish-looking victims.