This is becoming something of an almost comfortable ritual at this point. Another week goes by, Donald Trump does or says something to generate a new round of headlines, everyone predicts that he’s on the way out, and the next poll shows The Donald further ahead than ever. Then the veteran analysts are left staring at their laptops forlornly, stuck with the unenviable task of writing something to explain why. Once the first set of numbers came out which showed that not only was Trump on top of the GOP heap but was within striking distance of Hillary in the general (and losing to her by less than Jeb, by the way) the task became even more of a burden. This morning, our friend Jim Geraghty was forced to struggle with the question – and I quote – What if Donald Trump Really is… Electable?
Well, the unenviable task of answering that question falls to Matt Lewis this week, and he’s hot on the trail of a fresh explanation. You see, The Donald is the answer for people who are so beat down, left behind and simply angry that they feel there’s nothing left to lose, so they might as well go crazy. (Some emphasis added)
There is a courage born out of desperation. People who feel they have nothing to live for — and nothing to lose — might as well throw a Hail Mary and hope for the best. And make no mistake, there are plenty of Americans right now who truly feel they’ve been left behind. They are likely among the most susceptible to Donald Trump’s message.
It’s logical: If you’ve got nothing to lose, and Candidate A is telling you he can magically fix all your problems — and Candidate B is telling you he will do his best, but “politics is hard and change takes time” — why wouldn’t you take a chance with Candidate A?…
The problem, of course, is for those of us who do have something to lose.
Now, I realize that by saying this, I risk sounding like an elitist. It is ironic that I, the son of a prison guard could sound like an elitist in chastising a billionaire real estate mogul, but it’s important for those of us observing and writing about this to simultaneously realize two things: 1). There are a lot of vulnerable people out there who are understandably hurt and frustrated, and have lost faith in the American Dream, and 2). Vulnerable people are the most easily manipulated by false prophets.
Whether it’s a stranger approaching you in a dark alley, or someone entering the voting booth, the most dangerous person you’ll encounter is someone who believes he has nothing left to lose.
Dangerous? Easily manipulated by false prophets?
In terms of the five stages of grief, I think Matt has successfully cleared denial and anger and is currently teetering between bargaining and depression. (We’re still a good ways from acceptance, though.) There’s at least one cautionary note I’d send Matt’s way, however, and it’s the same one which I’ve brought up with other folks in the past. No matter how dismayed you may be over Trump’s ascendancy and no matter how soon you think it’s coming to an end, it’s probably never a good strategy to frame your explanation for his success in the form of an insult to the people who are supporting him. Let’s assume for a moment that you’re right and that Trump will eventually fall out of favor. You’re probably going to want his supporters to back your candidate. Or at least you’ll hope that they’ll show up and vote for somebody without a D after their name. Ticking them off accomplishes nothing.
I completely agree that there is a large swath of voters out there (and they’re not all Republicans… many of them might not even normally be voters) who feel completely abandoned by the government and the leadership of both parties. People like that would certainly be attracted to a new voice echoing the things they feel. But that doesn’t mean that they are desperate or have “nothing left to lose.” Maybe they’re just tired of the status quo and want something better. That may be precisely the opposite of desperation… it just might be hope.
But in any event, all of this is based on some assumptions which aren’t looking quite so iron clad these days. Let’s review all the things we’ve “known” so far, shall we?
- Trump isn’t actually going to run. He’s just doing it for attention or because it’s good for his business deals.
- Okay, so he says he’s running, but he’s not going to file any of the forms and mount a real campaign.
- Well, fine. So he did the bare minimum to call it an actual campaign. But nobody is going to take him seriously.
- Look… I get it. He’s got some support. But he’s basically tied with a bunch of other people in a crowded field.
- Fine. He’s way out in front, but the polls show he would get creamed by Hillary in the general.
- WHAT? The country is obviously full of crazy people so I quit.
I’m not endorsing anyone at this point, Matt. We have a broad, diverse field with a bunch of talented folks in it. But at some point we may have to just acknowledge that Trump may not just dry up and blow away. When the time comes, I’m going to vote for the GOP nominee. But by now you must have had one or two nights where you lay awake and the thought crept into your head saying that it just might be Trump.
I was going to type a final rejoinder to drive the point home for you, Matt, but really… this says it all: