Montgolfier Trump

It is a nice detail that Joseph-Michel Montgolfier, he of the hot-air balloon frères, believed that contained within the hot smoke that lifted his creations was “a special gas, which he called Montgolfier Gas, with a special property he called levity.”

Donald Trump is a sort of hot-air dirigible whose sudden and unexpected rise has astonished multitudes and whose special gas might well be called “levity.”

One thing to note about hot-air balloons is that, though they are colorful and wow the crowds when they first appear, they are notoriously difficult to control and their buoyant “levity,” so captivating on the way up, tends to expire with hazardous rapidity.

I first wrote about Donald Trump in this space back in July when everyone and his brother was tut-tutting about what a vulgar buffoon he was.  Between us, he is a vulgar buffoon, but that is neither here nor there.  He is also an astonishing political showman. The way he dispensed with Hillary Clinton’s charge of “sexism,” neutering Bill as political asset in the process, was a marvel to behold. He tried the same thing with Ted Cruz — birthergate, loangate, New-York-Valuesgate — but it’s my sense that, after an initial wobble, Cruz has weathered the assault unscathed or at least unfazed.  The proof, I suppose, will be in a pudding called Iowa.

Back in July, I noted that Trump had “raised some issues that the high and mighty dispensers of conventional wisdom would do well to ponder. Moreover,” I continued,

he has done it in a way that, though terribly, terribly vulgar, is catapulting Trump to first place in the polls. What does that tell us?  That the people are stupid and need to be guided by the suits in Washington?  If you believe that, I submit, you are going to be profoundly disappointed come November 2016.

I still think that’s correct. But I also continue to think, as I said back then, that Donald Trump will not win the Republican nomination and, if by some chance he does win it, he will lose the general election.  I believe that in part because I suspect that there is a big difference between Trump fans, who are boisterous and plentiful, and Trump supporters, who I suspect are far thinner on the ground. Again, the Iowa caucus on February 1, while by no means definitive, will offer some measurable sense about the depth of Trump’s support.

There are two astonishing things to bear in mind when contemplating Trump’s continued levity above the parade ground of this primary season.  One is the lemming-like rush of certain precincts of the Republican establishment to Trump’s side. I wrote about that a week or so back in a column called “Why the Sudden Love Among Establishment Republicans for Trump?”  I’m not sure, frankly, whether the term “establishment” is very helpful in the context of Donald Trump, for all the reasons Jonah Goldberg set forth with characteristic perspicacity in his recent National Review column “The Establishment vs. the Conservatives.” The billionaire real-estate developer, casino owner, and reality TV host  is not so much anti-establishment as he is an establishment jester.  But I think the reason for the sudden shift towards Trump on the part of the Beltway has as much to do with Ted Cruz as with Trump.  As Rush Limbaugh put it, the GOP establishment hates Trump, but they fear Cruz. They are right to do so, because were he elected the gravy train that is business-as-usual in Washington really would come screeching to a halt. But were Donald Trump elected, the deals would proceed as before, they would just be consummated with more bluster. Trump would change nothing about the essential metabolism of Washington. The same corrupt show would go on, but it would proceed with more gilt, rhinestones, and plunging necklines.