The best defence against Donald Trump is Donald Trump. But where does that leave the world defending against the future policies of a resurgent GOP, wonders Mike Fewster.
Some years ago I defended a film that included a portrayal of Hitler where, at times, the man seemed human. I argued that if we insisted on demonizing such figures to the extent of caricature, we would never recognize the threat when it appeared, as it usually does, with a human face.
That’s the glory of Trump. He arrived onstage already as a caricature with pitchfork in hand, horns on head and breathing smoke. Even more remarkable in this age of spin, there has been no ambiguity, no shift. The man positively insists on staying in character.
And that’s the danger of Trump. It is all too easy to see him for what he is. The persona of the man shocks and awes and alienates. Targets don’t come much larger. If the Democrats and Clintons can’t win this election then the barbarians are well and truly inside the gates, and the Dark Ages upon us.
Unfortunately, the man will be defeated not because what he stands for has been weighed and rejected, but because the man himself is unsellable. The resentments and perception of disenfranchisement that are clearly felt by a very large number of Americans remain smouldering away. A Trump defeat resulting from his personality is more likely to increase rather than resolve the polarization of the USA. Arguably, a Trump defeat may well be more dangerous than a Trump victory.
Trump has been shown to be lazy, doesn’t like dealing with detail and doesn’t have any fixed policies. In all likelihood, a President Trump would strut the stage but leave core decisions to the professionals. He’d blather on in his usual way to cover policy reversals on promises but there is a fair chance that his actual administration, while chaotic, would largely be pragmatic. Admittedly with Trump, you never know….
The media is full of commentary claiming that the GOP is in crisis and broken. I think they are wrong. The senior Republicans are not abandoning ship, they are abandoning Trump. Already they are preparing the battle plan for a one term President Clinton. The focus is now on preserving as many Republican representatives as they can to launch the counter attack.
They have learnt from the Trump debacle and they have learnt that extreme right policies are marketable. It is sobering to acknowledge that a policy platform like that of Trump could come as close as it has to winning the Presidency.
Compare Trump to Ted Cruz. Cruz is an ultra-conservative Protestant fundamentalist with commitment to an extremist agenda. He genuinely believes in that agenda and is driven by it.
In power, he’d want it implemented without compromise. Already he is re-building his base and is reported to be dutifully taking part in telephone campaigning on behalf of Trump. Just enough to show he is a good Party loyalist, not enough to be tainted.
President Cruz will have policies and self-righteous conviction that are much more to be feared than the ramshackle posturing of a President Trump.
Both the Republicans and the Democrats might look at the Australian experience. The Australian female PM was hit with media/shock jock abuse on an unprecedented scale. What was thrown at Gillard was small beer compared to the floodgates that will open on President Hillary Clinton.
Gillard enjoyed a wave of popular support when she became PM. Clinton is widely unpopular to begin with, and her previous record has issues that will make her vulnerable from the outset.
Now add the bitterness of the Trump supporters and then consider the traditional Republican media and supporters who have abandoned Trump. The pressure will be immediate and unrelenting. Rumours and innuendo, the inevitable slips, President Clinton can expect a very rough ride indeed.
It won’t just be President Hillary Clinton on the receiving end. She will be identified with policies from the previous President such as Obamacare. The storm awaiting President Clinton will sweep over those policies as well.
A resurgent GOP President after a one term Clinton Presidency will be confident in pushing policies much further to the right. In Australia, that backlash was tempered by the division of power in the upper house. In the USA, the current Republican emphasis on retaining seats rather than Trump is likely to mean there will be no such restrictions on an incoming President with an agenda like Cruz.
In the short term, the left should be grateful to Trump. He’ll defeat himself on personality grounds. The extent of his success however shows that Clinton would probably have been defeated by a more orthodox Republican candidate.
The long-term consequences of Trump are another matter. Next time the same policies won’t have the horns and pitchfork to alarm the voters.