January 12, 2016

ROGER KIMBALL: Donald Trump as a Mirror for the Republican Soul.

What’s going on? A large segment of the Republican political establishment, blindsided by Trump’s success, has decided, cautiously, in a hedging-your-bets sort of way, that Trump might just have what it takes to beat Hillary.

Three points. First, as I have argued in the space before (and here), the Trump phenomenon owes a great deal to the widespread, visceral impatience with the business-as-usual politically correct establishment, Republican every-bit-as-much as Democrat. Trump is not a conservative. As Kevin Williamson has shown in meticulous and hilarious detail, Trump “spent most of his life as a progressive Democrat, a patron of Charles Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and Hillary Rodham Clinton.” . . .

True, all true. But it’s not clear that — while we are still here listening to the warm-up bands waiting for the main event — it is not clear that it matters. And while we wait, Trump is excellent entertainment. That is point two, summed up with characteristic panache by Mark Steyn a few days ago in a column called “Notes on a Phenomenon.” Reflecting on Trump’s recent performance behind enemy lines, i.e., in Bernie Sander’s HQ, Burlington, People’s Republic of Vermont, Steyn noted that “Trump has no prompters. He walks out, pulls a couple of pieces of folded paper from his pocket, and then starts talking. Somewhere in there is the germ of a stump speech, but it would bore him to do the same poll-tested focus-grouped thing night after night, so he basically riffs on whatever’s on his mind. . . . But in a strange way it all hangs together: It’s both a political speech, and a simultaneous running commentary on his own campaign.” That’s true. And it is also true, as Steyn points out that it makes for great entertainment. . . .

As I have been saying for many months now, I am not at all convinced that Hillary Clinton will be the nominee, or, if she were the nominee, that she would be elected. As the classified emails that rocketed about the world from her personal email server keep being leaked, I suspect she is edging closer to indictment or at least popular, and therefore crippling, delegitimation. Later this week, 13 Hours, a movie about what happened in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, will hit the theaters. The movie makers stress that it is “not political.” The names “Obama” and “Hillary Clinton” are never uttered. But the film is said to tell the truth about what happened in that consular outpost, which means that it will show how four Americans, including a US Ambassador, where slaughtered by Islamic terrorists because Washington, worried about political fallout in an election years, refused to send help that was just minutes away. The more popular that movie is, the poorer are Hillary Clinton’s chances.

But the real gravamen of my third point revolves around Ted Cruz, not Hillary Clinton. I suspect that an unstated but large consideration in the sudden shift towards Donald Trump on the part of the Republican Establishment its members are terrified of Ted Cruz. They are right to be terrified of him, for were he to become President, the gravy train that is business-as-usual in Washington would make an abrupt stop, everyone off, please, and it would be as much of a shake-up for Republicans as Democrats.

What you hear people say is that “Donald Trump may have the best chance of beating Hillary Clinton.” But what that means is, “Maybe Trump can beat Hillary, assuming she is the Democratic candidate, but anyway, despite his bluster, he really is deep down a pay-to-play kind of guy, just like us. Ted Cruz, on the contrary, really means all that stuff about ending the ‘Washington Cartel’ and restoring Constitutional restraints on government. It’s OK to say that in election years, but we don’t want to elect someone who will actually try to do it.”

Hmm. As Limbaugh says, they hate Trump, but they fear Cruz.

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