Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Thinking the Unthinkable: President Trump

Jonathan Chait has written a post on what happens if Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination. Shorter version: The party establishment will have no choice but to rally behind him and he will increasingly be treated as a mainstream candidate.  He will probably lose, but not as spectacularly as Goldwater or McGovern because the country has become so polarized.

But what if Trump wins the nomination and goes on the win the general election?

Republicans will control all levers of government.  That means they will have to face the realities of power and decide what to do with it.  But, of course, that would apply if any Republican candidate what would be unique about Trump.

What is unique about Trump is his style.  He has developed the ultimate strategy for campaigning.  Tell the audience whatever lies it wants to hear, without the slightest regard for true, and raise your voice if confronted with actual facts.  It seems to work very well on the campaign trail.  The problem, of course, is that in the world of power unpleasant facts don't go away just because you yell at them.

And honestly, I do not know whether his followers care or not.  I cannot tell what they want. Deportation of all illegal immigrants within six months?  An end to those pesky telephone messages that say "For English, press one"?  An end to Spanish signs at Home Depot?  The return of the good-paying blue collar jobs of yesteryear?  A quick and easy victory in the Middle East?  Conservative domination of popular culture?  Trump is not going to be able to deliver on any of those.  Or are they okay with that and don't really care if their President can deliver so long on any of these things so long as he is as mad as hell as his supporters and articulates their anger.

I fully agree that most hawkish types don't particularly care what happens in the ground in the Middle East.  They just want a President who makes lots of noise and beats his chest.  Or consider all the people urging Obama to be angrier about the BP oil spill.  At the time I thought it was silly.  Being angry won't contain the oil one bit sooner.  But maybe if Donald Trump were President and an oil spill occurred and he acted really angry and screamed and yelled a lot, he would get credit when the spill was contained (as it eventually would be).  Trump is just a lot of hot air, but maybe his followers just want hot air and don't care whether he accomplishes anything because being loud and angry will make it feel like he accomplished something.

As for his policy positions, aside from immigration they are fairly reasonable.  He isn't promising to cut entitlements and gut the safety net.  (Although he is just as enthusiastic about cutting taxes as anyone else).  And he seems relatively sensible about the Middle East, wanting to substitute big talk for an actual war.

But the real problem with Trump is that he is all hot air,  He is completely unqualified to be President.  He is acting as a sort of male Sarah Palin, proudly proclaiming his lack of qualification as reason to vote for him.  It got old with Palin; I am hoping it will get old with Trump as well.  But if he does win, he will quickly find himself in over his head, not having a clue about policy and all those things that a President is supposed to do.  Presumably the result will be that he will be uniquely dependent on his advisers and that they will actually be the ones running things, while he acts in charge but doesn't have a clue.  So how a Trump administration works out will depend on who he chooses as advisers.  My guess is that he will choose fairly conventional Republican advisers because, after all, that is who there is to choose from.  So they would probably set policy about the same as they would under any other Republican President, except with less direction from the top.

In short, my guess is that a Trump Administration would be a fairly conventional Republican administration, only more obnoxious and less competent.

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