As Trump Moves Toward the Nomination

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
Team Kasich celebrating their Ohio win, on an evening that moved the country closer to a Trump-Clinton general election. (Aaron Josefczyk / Reuters)

As this evening’s results move us closer to (probably) a Clinton-Trump general election campaign, here’s a range of reader reactions on Trump. These follow the other items now collected in this thread, and this earlier post about the tabula rasa that is Trump’s public-policy mind. Here we go:

Trump as Muhammad Ali. A reader explains why Trump’s disconnection from any specific policy views might be a governing liability but has been an electoral asset:

I suspect that Trump’s surprising ignorance and lack of policy positions is a feature not a bug. Untethered to facts or positions and thus not having to defend them, he can claim anything and attack anyone from any direction, as the opportunity arises.

His is the Muhammad Ali approach applied to politics:

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can't hit what the eyes can't see.”

Let’s leap ahead: what if Trump loses? Several readers have begun worrying about this consequence.

I fear that if/when Trump is beaten back, people will "relax" and forget that the hardest work is still ahead—reaching people who feel so isolated and disempowered, and bringing them “into the fold” of empowered groups that feel they have a true voice in DC. That starts, partly, by not treating people who live in trailers as trash. Poor whites are a safe target in politics, even though their access to power is as limited as that of many minority groups.

Conservatives leaders need to stop taking these groups for granted. Liberals should see them as a group that deserves attention and outreach. This needs to happen after Trump—otherwise we will repeat history in 4 or 8 years.

Also in the what if he loses? category, from an American reader who has lived for many years in Japan:

I think the key phrase to the recent post, Trump Supporters Make Their Case, is your summation, “and then we’ll have to deal with the aftermath.” No matter how the primary cum election plays out, there will be a group seething at the results. I guess the closest parallel to this coming November are the `64 and `72 elections where depending on party affiliation and political inclination, a large group of the electorate viewed the Republicans & Goldwater and the Democrats & McGovern as nutcases … and the winners, Johnson and Nixon,  as viewed by the losing groups, were out to destroy America.

Well, actually, Nixon was out to destroy America, anyhow, we did muddle on.

I looked up the `64 and `72 election results, both had an approximate 60% / 40% split for the vote. Although an election landslide, still, 40% is a sizable block of voters that choose what is now viewed as extremist candidates (my political inclination says that Goldwater was truly on the extreme right and labeling McGovern as his mirror image is a bit of false equivalence, but trying to see things from both sides).

I remember the Nixon years and the bitterness that some Republicans felt at his ouster, some say that Clinton`s impeachment was payback. What I am asking you and your readers is how did the Goldwater defeat go down to those that supported him, I was 6 at the time so I do not remember. Johnson was able to pass the Great Society legislation (and I think he did that with some bipartisan support). If only he did not feel the need to placate the hawks what a different nation we would have had, maybe, or were the Reagan Republicans as angry as the present cohort but minus the internet/talk radio bullhorns.

In other words, how are we not going to tear ourselves apart at the seams (even though the bounty that constitutes the US as seen from afar - Japan - makes this whole B grade opera feel absurd)

And finally in the what if he loses? vein:

Many people wonder what will happen if Trump gets the nomination. Most anti-Trump people seem to be confident that he will lose, though there is a real fear on the part of some people that he might win. My big fear is what will happen if he does lose, which is not something I feel like many people are addressing. I used to have a Tea Party friend who’s now a fervent Trump supporter. I am sure that he’s convinced Trump will win the presidency, and that belief will only get stronger if Trump gets the nomination. I am sure many Trump supporters will feel validated if he gets the nomination, and will be sure he will win. I wonder what their reaction will be if he’s defeated. Will they feel like the election is illegitimate. Even if they’re willing to accept that he legitimately lost, I wonder if they will take that as a sign that they have truly lost this country, and will then start getting desperate.

I don’t think people are quite worried enough about what might happen IF Trump loses. It could get a whole lot uglier in the next few years than people are imagining.

***

Another next-step question: what about a veep? A reader asks:

One thing I have yet to see discussed anywhere is the question of Donald Trump's VP choice. I ask because the whole idea of naming a VP seems completely contrary to Trump's messaging.

A Vice President is a contingency that the President will be unable to do his or her job: has such a thought ever entered Trump's head? How could he share the spotlight with someone who isn't Trump? A second name just dilutes the brand: there simply isn't room. I can only conclude Trump will name himself as his VP.

Interesting question: who would he want on the ticket, and who would accept?

Now, back to his argument. What about the Switzerland comparison? A reader responds to a previous reader argument that the U.S. needs to organize itself the way the tidy Swiss do:

The one from Switzerland may have disturbed me more than the others, even.  The idea that democracy = tyranny of the majority is pretty frightening (some peoples’ rights might be curtailed but so what?)

Oy.

Also, the idea that the President doesn’t have to know anything.

See:  Dubya (but even he had some experience as a real life governor and came from a political family!)

I rest my case.

And more on the Swiss angle:

I just read the opinion of your reader from Europe with interest as a US citizen residing in Switzerland.

The idea that the Swiss system of direct democracy is what the US needs is interesting to be kind.

I suppose that this could suppress any cult of personality that surrounds candidates in the US, but would it really create more trust in government? Switzerland, without the benefit of a charismatic leader, has passed stringent anti-immigrant laws promoted by extreme parties through popular votes and continues to attempt to pass more. If the Swiss minority in these votes "shuts it" and accepts the vote, doing so has not calmed the frightened populists in the country.

Unfortunately, the real Trump problem isn't simply the fact that Donald Trump could win the US presidential election. The full scope of the problem is that similar issues seem to exist in most developed countries - likely as part of the long hangover from the financial crisis. As your colleague reported recently there are "Little Trumps" all over Europe.

On the other hand, a lance the boil argument. From someone who has been a military officer during the recent wars:

I want him as the nominee.  It seems like, if he isn't then the Republicans just have this same problem again in four years, and worse.

Picking Trump tells the right, this is where they are and they have to start working to make the party different if that's what they want.  Picking Rubio tells them, there was absolutely totally nothing wrong with the Bush years, which is just wrong.  And Cruz wants them to believe, despite all available evidence, that there is a sleeping giant of far-right evangelical voters who form a significant American plurality and want no more concession of any kind on their core issues and instincts, which is a disastrous misconception both for his party _and_ for the country.

The Republicans should be doing a "this thing of darkness I acknowledge mine" and prepping for the convention.

***

What it means for the industry.  From a former political-science professor who has worked on Capitol Hill and in the Pentagon:

I offer these observations on how unusual Trump's campaign is.

As a political scientist who has worked in several campaigns over the years, I have been astounded that Trump has largely failed to utilize the political consultant industry and its tools and has succeeded in winning voters despite his flouting of the candidate's code of conduct.

Political consultants have expertise in buying TV ads, in microtargeting people for ads and turnout efforts, in branding and message discipline—which have made the difference in numerous campaigns over the years. So far as I can tell, Trump isn't using these people, isn't using much paid TV, isn't building a ground game—because he can win without it.

Everybody has been surprised by his ability to manipulate the media and dominate news coverage by tweets and phone calls, but it has worked. He has not followed the traditional media campaign of paid ads, themed speeches, and infrequent press availabilities.

The whole pundit class has been amazed that Trump can get away with behaviors that used to destroy previous candidates: personal insults, lies, changing positions, ignoring what he labels political correctness but the rest of us see as civility. These deviations from the standard code of conduct haven't cost him many votes.

What this means for the presidential race is that Clinton must run against a candidate using new and unexpected behaviors, and it's far from clear that her playbook responses will work against such an untraditional candidate.

America has never had a demagogue as a serious presidential candidate since the television era began in 1952. Huey Long was like that in the 1930s, and might have dethroned FDR if he hadn't been killed in 1935. George Wallace was a demagogue, but on a single issue with only regional appeal. Trump has found issues that resonate across geography and ideology. And voters are so distrustful of what politicians say that they don't hold Trump's outrageous comments against him. They even enjoy them because they're refreshingly different.

Back to positive news tomorrow. Classy departure speech (the personal parts) by Marco Rubio tonight.