Democracies are not immune to demagogues and, in recent years, the world has witnessed its share of them. India has elected Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi and Turkey Islam-booster Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The difference between them and Trump is not that they had less extreme views than him, but that they communicated them with more civility, decorum, and command of the issues. Modi, in particular, argued his positions with such rigor and wit that people up and down the social strata from peasant to pundit forgot that thousands of Muslims were slaughtered on his watch when he was chief minister of a state. India handed him a landslide victory.
Trump, by contrast, clearly embodies the ugliness of his ideas — making it exceedingly hard for sophisticated conservatives to embrace him. Scan their anti-Trump objections and it becomes clear that they are appalled not as much by his substance but his style and personal vices — the very thing about Trump that attracts many working-class conservative voters.
What if Trump were less of a vulgarian and buffoon? What if he presented his terrifying plans to kill innocent children of terrorists with the appropriate-level of chin stroking about how the constitution or international law is not a suicide pact? What if he prefaced his plans to revive Operation Wetback to eject millions of undocumented immigrants not with a gleeful smirk but a troubled furrow noting that sometimes restoring order means relaxing one’s dogmatic commitment to cherished values? Would conservative elites then not be more open to him, especially since there is no fundamental conflict between much of what he’s proposing and their key issues? Maybe. But maybe not.