"Sir, with all due respect, that’s the argument of a five year old," Anderson Cooper told Donald Trump the other day. That’s an insult to kindergarteners. The tykes in Mrs. Cummings’ morning class have more self-discipline than the Republican frontrunner. Not to mention better manners.
Cooper prefaced his jibe with a show of deference that Trump did not deserve. It’s called reciprocity: If you want someone to call you sir, to show you respect, then do the same. Trump never has. He demeans women on the basis of their appearance, he mocks the disabled, he lies with unsettling ease, he flips the bird at mores and traditions and institutions, he has become the paladin of misogynists and bigots and everyone looking to blame scapegoats for whatever confusion and unhappiness and resentment is in their lives.
No longer is Donald Trump a trifle, a fillip, an entertainment, the personification of the liberal caricature of Republicans, easy to mock, easier to dismiss, a phenomenon at which to awe, an avenger of the people who has the right enemies. He’s a threat to American democracy. And he must be stopped.
I don’t say this lightly. I’m as critical of our elites as the next talk radio host. Their uncritical attitude toward globalization would embarrass Dr. Pangloss. Immigration, trade, and internationalism have costs. But these costs must be weighed against the benefits, and then ameliorated prudently, gradually, and steadfastly. Trump would have us believe our troubles will vanish as soon as we build his wall, raise tariffs, and exit NATO. It’s a fantasy.
And it is precisely this embrace of wishful thinking that makes him so dangerous. Politicians lie. But there is a difference between the lying common in democracies—a Clinton family specialty—and the construction of alternate realities more common to autocratic regimes. Trump, his rallies, and his Twitter mobs fall under the second category. Trump is expert at asking, "Who are you going to believe: Me or your lying eyes?" He not only gets marks to fall for the con. He convinces them to embellish and to extend it, to harass skeptics and critics, to spew bile and hatred. He’s convinced a large swath of Republican voters to see vulgarity as strength, braggadocio as character, brashness as capability. He inverts standards of judgment and of truth, and if he is allowed to reshape the GOP in his image there is no telling where he’d turn next.
The case of his campaign manager is instructive. Just look at the police video. You’ll see why Corey Lewandowski was charged with simple battery. But Trump and his minions weave an intricate web of lies to deny, excuse, defend, and celebrate their man. That young woman who asked a question? To them, she’s not a reporter. She’s a security threat, publicity hound, hoaxer who enjoys the attention. That their messages contradict doesn’t matter. The lies serve the overarching goal of appearing strong, decisive, unflinching, and untamed. If this is how Candidate Trump responds to a conservative journalist for a friendly publication, how would President Trump behave toward his opponents?
I don’t want to know the answer. Nor should you. Hence the task of liberal democracy: Stop Trump. How? The quickest way would be to deny him the 1,237 delegates required to win the GOP nomination on the first ballot. John McCormack of the Weekly Standard has done the math: Beat Trump in Wisconsin, in Indiana, and in Nebraska, split the delegates in Oregon and Washington, defeat him in South Dakota, Montana, and California, and he’ll fall short.
It’s an uphill battle. But not entirely utopian: Trump has lost some momentum as his campaign turns into a circus that embarrasses most Republicans. And the cause is noble. If Trump doesn’t win on the first ballot, then the convention will be thrown to the delegates. And the complexity of the proceedings will favor the well organized, the best resourced, and the most influential members of the party. The Trump campaign is none of these things.
What happens next? Trump says he won’t abide by his pledge to support the Republican nominee. Figures. It’s not like his word was his bond before he ran for president. This is a businessman known for his parsimony, his reluctance to fulfill invoices, his quickness to sue, his welching on commitments. If he doesn’t win the nomination outright and the convention seems open to another candidate, Trump will threaten to leave the GOP and take his voters with him. Fear of that outcome is why so many in the Republican Party have catered to Trump for so long.
They should stop. If Donald Trump and Chris Christie and Sarah Palin and Ben Carson and Jeff Sessions and Sean Hannity want to leave, well, arrivederci. The rules are the rules, and if you do not win by the rules, you do not get to rewrite them on the fly. Indeed, Trump’s predilection for changing the rules to better satisfy his interests, his whims—the very definition of authoritarian rule—is one reason he should not become president.
Just because the party is split doesn’t mean the more obnoxious candidate wins. Nor is Trump the only one ready to bolt: If he does win the nomination, he’s certain to drive many college-educated and suburban and church-attending Republicans out of the party—probably more voters than would follow him if he left. Don’t their opinions count? Or is anger and reverse snobbery the only legitimate currency in this divided and embittered movement?
The GOP survived the departure of Pat Buchanan and his acolytes. If it can’t survive the departure of Donald Trump, maybe it needs to take a good long look in the mirror and think about some of its life choices. Conversely, if the Republicans horrified at the prospect of the least qualified and most disliked president in American history are forced to leave the party, and to run an independent conservative candidate in a last-ditch attempt to deny Trump the presidency, the populists and nationalists might want to do some soul-searching of their own. None of us is exempt from standards of morality, decency, and responsibility. Not me, not you, not five year olds, not even Donald Trump and his supporters.