Though I found Trump’s acceptance speech underwhelming, it was nonetheless probably one of the best “serious” speeches he ever gave. So naturally, he spent the next day talking about Ted Cruz’s father and JFK. It’s almost as though he resents the teleprompter so much that he has to “get his revenge” afterwards. Which is fine for me, since I want to keep as much of the intransigents as intransigent as possible. Also, he said that he might start a SuperPAC to get revenge on Cruz and Kasich.
Some people have wondered, or at least mock-wondered, precisely why it is that despite being in a general election with an uphill climb, that he keeps going after party members whose help he actually needs. Kasich’s lack of support, for example, is tying up resources in a state that he needs. So many people predicted that once he had the nomination he would normalize and moderate, but it just hasn’t happened. They predicted he would become a more traditional Republican candidate, but that hasn’t happened, either. He knocks Cruz and tries to befriend Bernie Sanders. He and the RNC attack the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee for being too moderate.
What’s going on?
There are several interrelated issues here. But the most surprising is the continued attacks on Cruz, Kasich, and company. There have been a number of theories put forward.
- He’s secretly a Clinton plant out to destroy the Republican Party. “Trump as a Clinton plant” has had currency among some on the right for some time now. People still ask the question “If he was a Clinton plant, what would he do differently?” But for the most part, the key “proof” of this theory (his tendency to blow up whenever Hillary Clinton gets bad publicity) has a more credible alternative explanation: He hates anyone but him getting attention, even if it’s his rival getting negative attention.
He’s just super-duper petty. Well, I think there is some truth to this. But this only gets us part of the way there. It’s not like Clinton is being nice to him. And yet he spends remarkably little time on her.
- It’s a matter of principle. He knows Hillary Clinton will go after him, but people like Cruz shouldn’t because they’re on the same team. This might make sense, except that Donald Trump isn’t a team player. You get what you give. I’m sure he sees it this way, but it is not an argument that especially works.
- It’s tactical: Before he can charge forward, he needs a secure flank. There was an argument for this up until recently, but it’s become sort of clear that he’s not going to have a secure flank. So if he’s committing to getting everyone in line behind him, he’ll be doing that until November.
- It’s tactical: Everyone hates Republicans and so he’s coming out of this looking good. Here, too, there was an argument for it once upon a time but its time has passed. By any reasonable measure, John Kasich and Mitt Romney are more popular or at least less unpopular than he is among the general population. At some point, the perceived lack of unity actually has a cascading effect, making it harder for people outside to support a guy whose party is so reluctant to. There’s a reason Hillary Clinton is hammering on this. It’s not to Trump’s benefit.
- He’s really a liberal who hates Republicans more than Democrats. I think there actually is some truth to this one, if you squint your eyes and cock your head. It’s not that he has strong feelings about Republicans and Democrats in the ideological sense, but there are people he considers “his people” and people he doesn’t. The people he likes and who he thinks should like him lean to the left. I can actually sort of relate to this, in a way. My friendships have always drawn disproportionately to the left. I suspect this is true of a lot of Republicans, but most manage to compartmentalize their personal selves and professional selves. Trump has no need. His professional self is his personal brand. I do think this explains another political idiosyncraticity, which is Trump’s illusions of flipping deep blue states. He thinks he can win states like California and New York because he likes them and they should like him. He’ll go to Ohio and Indiana, but only grudgingly. He couldn’t even stay in Ohio for his own nomination convention.
My own theory has not gotten as much play, and it is this: He’s the auto mechanic who won’t stop talking about what a star he was on the high school football team.
He likes talking about the Republicans he has defeated because he won. He is bored going after Hillary Clinton because he is losing. This ends when and if he cracks open a durable lead against Hillary Clinton. But right now there are few polls he can cite where he is ahead. He has gone from the guy who never stops citing polls to the guy who talks about the polls and election results of battles already won. He likes criticizing Cruz because, at the end of the day, he can say that he beat him. He knows that he will never lose to him. Cruz is the ultimate safe target, as is Kasich. (Which aside from thriftiness is, by the way, why he will not actually start a PAC to defeat them in 2020). He loves talking about his victories, which is a part of why he kept talking about Jeb Bush since long after he dropped out of the race, and why the main point during his acceptance speech where he went off-script it was to talk about how many votes he got.
It’s not just Trump, though. His staunchest supporters really like it. For some of the same reasons. (And for some of the same reasons that a lot of High Republicans follow British politics more closely. Hey, we’re winning over there!). Quite a bit of it is personal, though. They all took a lot of crap in the primaries by being told they were going to lose and they won. Their loudest denigrations were from opposing Republican supporters while a lot of Democrats liked him like Donald Trump likes funny fat people. It’s hard to blame them for wanting to lord it over on the rest of us.
Also, we’re the more proximate enemy and they really don’t like us. This goes beyond the frustrations of a lack of cooperation. They dislike us almost as much as they dislike mainstream Democrats, which is quite a bit. It veers from the personal to the professional, though. They’ve come to the determination that they have no particular reason to be mend bridges at this juncture. Those that are going to get on board have, and the rest are going to be quarantined. They’re better off without us. Besides, we’re actually getting in the way of the voters they really want, and need both to replace us and go on to victory. In the same way that we sought to replace some of them with theoretical voters they were repelling, they see the same addition-by-subtraction by replacing us with voters we theoretically repel.
Their affection for Bernie Sanders supporters has mostly been genuine (as genuine as any such thing can be, involving Trump). On the Kaine announcement, the RNC pointing out Kaine’s relative moderation as a betrayal of their base wasn’t just spit-stirring, but actually a part of a novel strategy. They think they can win them over. They are viewed as natural allies. A Trumper recently described to me his support for Donald Trump as “trade, immigration, and fewer wars.” Bernie Sanders represents two out of the three. It’s not terribly unlike how Republicans have traditionally looked at the Jewish as natural allies despite all available evidence. It’s also likely to be about as unsuccessful. But it’s one of the few plays they have, and one that would solve multiple issues (replacing us, getting to 51%, and the Trump coalition’s age problems).
For all of the bad moves it seems to me like they’re making, though, I can’t think of very many good ones that they aren’t making. I worry about the future but I look at the numbers and the challenges, and I don’t see how they win this time around. On the other hand, I don’t see how Hillary Clinton is polling at only 45%.
As I wrote this, of course, Trump turned on Bernie:
There is no longer a Bernie Sanders "political revolution." He is turning out to be a weak and somewhat pathetic figure,wants it all to end!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 24, 2016
So on to Plan W?