by Michael Wolff
Most political and media professionals have assumed that crossing some bridge too far, Donald Trump would self-destruct. But Trump has crossed so many unimaginable bridges in triumph, the political class is having to re-evaluate its keenest assumption. The more unelectable Donald Trump seems, the more people want to elect him.
There is still some safety in the primary process: Only die-hard voters vote, and Trump’s most passionate support is among unreliable voters, many who are not even Republicans.
As likely an outcome is that politics as we know it — center-liberal with a more or less strident left, center-conservative with a more or less strident right and a two-party structure with more or less institutional weight — is going to sit out 2016.
This has been an exclusive problem for the Republicans but ought reasonably to be as confounding for Democrats as Trump becomes reality rather than reality show.
The charisma and dramatic persona of Donald Trump derive from him as the foil to professional politicians who appear awkward and inept and cower in front of him. If “character” is the grail in American politics, he has made his opponents into negative characters. Or worse, character voids. They are examples of the pathos of politics, in which you so often shrink instead of grow. Jeb Bush is “low energy,” and if you give politicians money — Hillary or anybody — they show up at your wedding and dance any jig you want them to.
The Hillary assumption is that Trump is a joke and she is a serious political figure. It’s doubtful that she sees the danger in that sort of assumption: In the less and less unlikely event that Trump is the Republican nominee, she might as easily become the joke and he the epochal figure — an idea, however ridiculous, whose time has come.
Trump’s rise as political variable and media superstar is as contrast gainer to a set of people whose legitimacy and authenticity is undermined by their unwillingness or inability to express the central force that transparently motivates them, their own desperate ambition. That is, of course, the precise attribute that Trump most revels in. Trump is honest Abe, and all others are out-of-touch dissemblers.
None more so than Hillary. It is a part of our shared understanding of the modern world that both Bill and Hillary represent one of the most naked, cutthroat, unreconstructed examples of succeed-or-die ambition in our time. Bill Clinton has accounted for this in his public persona — he’s the flawed striver in need of constant love. But Hillary has been in constant public denial of her essential and obvious nature. That has always made her look suspect and occasionally sinister — and not a little unhappy, too.
Next to self-loving Trump, she might look all the more fake and wretched.
That may be the Trump accomplishment. He’s transformed the fundamental assumption that American politicians have to be everyday Joes into a truer acknowledgement that they are egomaniacs, dour or joyful. He has altered the premise that a position on the issues — no matter how dull, rote and insincere, or how passionately held — means you stand for something, to a higher order in which your singularity and audacity, even your cruelty, mean you have the mettle to stand for something (even if we don’t know what it is).
In a world where there are no meaningful positions, the left-right divide that the Democrats count on to keep the Republicans out of the White House dissolves. Indeed, a debate audience eight or nine times greater than it should reasonably have been means there are a lot of Democrats in thrall to Donald Trump.
For the Democrats, this ought to signal a new sort of existential political imperative: If they don’t transform themselves, Donald Trump could actually become president. Even if that chance seems less than likely, it is a possibility that, one can only hope, has set off alarms.
Joe Biden as a Hillary toppler and garrulous character (let Joe be Joe might be the new strategy) is a plausible Trump opponent — yet 2016 seems more and more unfriendly ground for anyone from the political class.
If Trump successfully makes the race about worldly accomplishment, management prowess, personal authenticity, business smarts, lack of political pretense and rejection of the political class, then the Democrats have a more logical Trump slayer: Michael Bloomberg.
Right-winger and Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch, who has extraordinary political antennae and a curious antipathy to Donald Trump, trumpets Bloomberg — even presumably as a Democrat and even with his assortment of left-leaning positions — in yet another example of the year’s remarkable, if not bizarre, political fluidity.
It might take a true New York plutocrat to beat a populist one.
This is a long way from the Democrats’ public policy, public sector world. Undoubtedly, many Democrats believe there is a fight about ideas and issues that Trump would lose — and that Hillary Clinton could wage.
Five or six months from now, if Trump still hasn’t lost that fight, the country might hope Michael Bloomberg isn’t busy.
SOURCE: USA TODAY