News & Politics

Can Trump Be Beaten?

(Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock)

I rarely agree with Frank Bruni of the New York Times about much, but he’s spot-on today:

Over the last few months and even weeks, the question among many flabbergasted Republican traditionalists and incredulous political analysts was when the forces of gravity would catch up with Donald Trump and send him tumbling to earth. It was going to happen. Of course it was going to happen. You just had to be patient. You just had to be strong.

But in the wake of his victories in New Hampshire and now South Carolina, the question is no longer “when.” It’s “if.” And the answer isn’t clear at all.

Consider this: From 1980 forward, no Republican presidential candidate has won both the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries and gone on to lose the party’s nomination. And this: Over that same time period, only one Republican victor in South Carolina failed to become the nominee, and that was Newt Gingrich, in 2012. But Gingrich didn’t have Trump’s durable (and sizeable) lead in national polls. He didn’t dominate the race’s narrative and capture an exasperated electorate’s mood the way Trump has.

As it happens, Gingrich was on Fox News on Saturday night to discuss Trump’s latest triumph, and he didn’t say: “South Carolina? It’s a muggy, marshy, inconsequential tease. I bagged it four years ago and all it got me was this gig babbling in the wee hours about election returns.” No, Gingrich marveled at what he made clear was “a huge night for Donald Trump.”

“Nobody should kid themselves,” he added.

It’s been frankly disheartening to me to see so many of my fellow conservatives tie themselves in knots in their frothing Trump-hatred. Let’s stipulate that everything they say about him is true, and that in any normal election year his candidacy would have been DOA. But these are not normal times, and many people don’t really seem to give a damn any more about whether the GOP stays true to “conservative principles” (when has it ever?) and what will happen on Jan. 20, 2017 should Trump win the White House.

What we incredulous political analysts keep failing to take into account—what I was reminded of when I went to a Trump rally last week and listened hard to his supporters—is that the people voting for him aren’t evaluating him through any usual ideological lens. They’re not asking what kind of Republican he is. They’re not troubling themselves with whether the position he’s selling today matches the position he was selling yesterday or even what that old position was.

They want to try something utterly different—utterly disruptive, to use the locution du jour—and that leaves them, on the Republican side, with the options of Trump and Ben Carson. Trump has the fire…

Rubio hasn’t notched a single victory yet. Trump has notched two, and whether they fully lived up to the advance polling is irrelevant. They’re victories, plural. They’re no fluke, no fad.

Naysayers can’t claim that he’s just a bad gaffe or an ugly revelation away from doom. There have already been gaffes aplenty—if you can call them gaffes. There have been revelations galore.

All Trump’s fans see is someone barreling forward without apology and with a largeness that makes them feel a little less small. They see a winner. And it’s no longer an illusion.

Listening to Trump’s victory speech last night, my thought was this: this is the sound of an oncoming, possibly runaway, locomotive, one that just flattened the entire Bush family: mommy, Poppy, and brother W; movement conservatives ignore it at their peril.