One summer's evening, a skinny, not-particularly athletic boy, perhaps eleven years old, scored the most glorious touchdown of his life. This was not a real game. My friend and I, along with his older brother Phil, were just tossing a ball around in the park. But it was a memorable triumph because I scored my touchdown by outmaneuvering Phil with a head fake, and then outrunning him for half the length of the field. It was almost too easy!
I was so giddy at my remarkable feat that I saw nothing peculiar in the fact that my pursuer, a very athletic boy several years my senior, somehow could not catch me. I went home that evening and boasted breathlessly about my achievement.
Slowly, reality dawned on me. Today, I remember that moment fondly as a teenager's generous gift to his kid brother's gawky friend. I also realize, upon reflection, that Phil was not the only one willing to grant me that artificial ego boost. For as I proudly replayed my touchdown run for members of my family, they all kindly refrained from asking the illusion-bursting question: How had I managed to win a straight sprint against a strong, healthy athlete several years my senior?
I hadn't recalled that pleasant memory for a long time, but now, as I consider the rise of Donald Trump, and how he has sucked most of the air out of the constitutionalist movement, I can't stop thinking about it. Trump's supporters remind me of my eleven-year-old self, so excited about their incredible triumph that they have blinded themselves to the obvious. However, as the circumstances of their delusion are much more serious and less benign than my childhood touchdown, there is nothing kind about refraining from asking them an awkward question or three.
So today, addressing myself to any Trump supporters who are not already lost to the irrational anger he feeds on -- please don't scream about "righteous anger," as if I don't know the difference between justice and wrath -- I pose three simple questions:
(1) Don't you get the strange feeling that this has all been suspiciously easy?
Consider the fates of all previous GOP candidates to run against the party elite. Remember Herman Cain the creepy philanderer? Michele Bachmann the hysterical religious fanatic? Rick Santorum the Catholic extremist who was going to outlaw birth control and lock all women in the kitchen? And of course Ronald Reagan, the rare success story who taught the insiders a lesson they have never forgotten about the need for a unified strategy to nip all serious challenges in the bud?
But forget about the past; today we have Ted Cruz, the maniacal government-hating crusader and despicable liar whom everybody hates, who is owned by Goldman Sachs, and who may not even be an American!
In light of this consistent pattern of preemptive assault from the "left" and "right" against all anti-establishment GOP candidates, isn't it odd that Trump, who has been the obvious frontrunner in the primaries since last summer, and who presents as inviting a target for a media takedown effort as any candidate has ever presented, has been given a pass? In fact, he's been given much better than a pass. Aside from the nonstop free advertising he is getting as celebrity of the year, the most overtly leftist news network, MSNBC, has actively helped to create an aura of inevitability around him, and to demean his opponents. Meanwhile, has there been even one serious attempt on any twenty-four hour news network to dredge up and pursue any kind of scandal, ugly rumor, old girlfriends, shady business associates, anything at all that might undermine his campaign?
As for the "conservative media," in the fall of 2011, Matt Drudge and Ann Coulter put all their weight behind the establishment's preferred candidate, Mitt Romney. And over the past several months, those same two bigwigs have invested all their savings in Trump stock. Four years ago, Rush Limbaugh pussy-footed (that means walking like a kitten, by the way) around Romney throughout the primaries; this time he seems to be walking even more gingerly around his golf buddy Trump, defending him as an anti-establishment champion, and even half-excusing his "Bush allowed 9/11 to happen" bluster in South Carolina as "strategy."
As for the old guard establishment itself, days before the Iowa caucus, when support for Cruz appeared to be surging, several GOP elder statesmen issued public statements (via mainstream media outlets such as The New York Times, CNN, and The Atlantic) saying they could work with Trump, but that Cruz was unlikeable. The true believers' claim that this showed the establishment cowering before the mighty Trump is rose-colored nonsense. On the eve of Iowa, it was obvious that their conditional endorsement of Trump was an effort to undermine Cruz. One Republican strategist stated this plainly at the time:
Cruz has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way in D.C., whereas Trump hasn't, and Trump up until this year was pretty much a player…. Ultimately, the Washington establishment deep down -- although they find Trump tacky or distasteful -- they think that they ultimately can work with him. Deep down, a lot of people think [read "know"] it is an act. (Emphasis added.)
This leads me to my second question:
(2) Don't you find it odd that Trump, who habitually says the harshest, crudest, vilest things he can think of about anyone he perceives as an opponent or threat, never substantively criticizes the key players in the establishment at all?
On the contrary, he boasts about his willingness to work with them, trumpets their willingness to work with him, and promises he'll make deals with them. Even a diehard Trump supporter, if he has retained any glimmer of objectivity, can see that the candidate most hated and feared by the entire Washington establishment, both Republican and Democrat, is Cruz. In fact, Trump himself has highlighted this fact as an argument against Cruz. Remember that Trump's original branding of Cruz as a "mean" and "nasty" guy whom "nobody likes" was explicitly focused on Cruz's criticism of Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor and his alleged inability to get along in Washington. (By the way, that's the same McConnell Trump funded heavily against a Tea Party challenger, and about whom he tweeted this in 2014: "Someone unknown tweeted incorrectly that I'm for Sen. Mitch @McConnellPress for speaker. I'm supporting him for Senate Majority Leader.")
So everyone, from mainstream "liberals" Robert Reich and Bill Maher to mainstream Republicans Orrin Hatch, Bob Dole, and Trump himself, acknowledges that Cruz is the only candidate so anti-establishment as to cause real hatred and fear among the bipartisan progressive zeitgeist.
And yet you've chosen to vent your anti-establishment anger against Cruz? And you're channeling that anger into supporting the only candidate in the race who actually boasts of having been a member of the establishment? (If Trump doesn't fit the definition of a crony capitalist, then how do you define what you have been railing against all these years?) You are proudly supporting the only candidate who touts his "great relationships" with the establishment's front men (including their socialist fronts, e.g., Pelosi, Schumer)? The only one who, over the past five years, has heavily bankrolled the operations of Karl Rove, John Boehner, and Mitch McConnell?
The only one about whom leftist entertainer/culture critic Bill Maher recently said this:
Ted Cruz is scarier than Donald Trump…. Because I think Donald Trump, despite some of the crazy things he says, he also says some things that a liberal can love.
Which leads me to my third, and toughest, question:
(3) If you were Rove, McConnell, and the rest of the GOP elite, and you wanted to end the growing grassroots threat to your power and influence once and for all, how would you go about it?
Here's what I would do. Accepting that the grassroots will no longer succumb to my superior funding, and that they have rejected the "safety" of the status quo, I would try to gerrymander the grassroots movement itself. The key to my strategy would be to find and exploit a viable stalking horse who might demolish the grassroots conservative movement from within more effectively than any external assault.
This stalking horse would ideally be someone with demagogue tendencies and a built-in fan base, someone whose style is not to outthink or out-hustle his opponents, but to do personal damage, to destroy challengers -- for destruction, not victory, is my primary goal in this case.
He should be someone with a reliable history as a moderate or progressive, which will allow him to enlarge his support base beyond principled conservatives, even while trumping the real grassroots candidates with calculated populist rhetoric. Preferably, he would be someone without serious principles or well-defined views – someone who has as little use for the Constitution and limited government as I do -- so that I could make deals with him, and staff his inner circle with my cronies, if by chance he actually won. (Richard Hohlt, Republican lobbyist: "Do they [GOP insiders] all love Trump? No. But there's a feeling that he is not going to layer over the party or install his own person. Whereas Cruz will have his own people there." [Emphasis added.])
As for political philosophy, I need him to be consistent and trustworthy on only one point: he must have a clear history of never having supported the Tea Party, and hopefully of directly opposing it in word and deed. A long-time donor to American Crossroads, the Congressional Leadership Fund, and the Crossroads off-shoot Kentuckians for Strong Leadership would be perfect -- but that's too much to ask, isn't it?
But at the same time this man should be so charismatic and unscrupulous that he will happily pitch his campaign at the very people he has long ridiculed and set out to thwart, or at least at those among them who are so blinded by anger that they are prepared to jump on any bandwagon whose leader seems to share that anger, regardless of whether he consistently stands for anything they actually believed back when they were thinking rationally about saving their country.
Through this agent of destruction, I would factionalize the Tea Party movement, turning long-time allies against one another. I would encourage the fight to become as ugly, the rhetoric as unforgiveable, as possible, setting those factions on the path to mutual assured destruction. Most importantly, I would encourage, support, and even, when it seemed judicious, echo this demagogue's most outrageous attacks against any genuine anti-establishment threats, in order to reinforce their believability. If he said "Everyone hates Cruz," I would say "Well, you know, people don't really like Cruz." If he said "Cruz is the biggest liar in the world," I would say, "Well, Cruz isn't telling the whole truth about X or Y."
And if I had a more congenial mainstream candidate in the field, I would support that man publicly to keep up appearances -- but I would avidly discourage him from running hard against my stalking horse, urging him instead to join in the propaganda campaign against the real anti-establishment threat, at least until that threat had been fully vanquished.
I would do all of this because, if my stalking horse can achieve my primary mission of tearing apart the conservative movement, then it really won't matter who wins either the nomination or the general election. If constitutionalism is permanently diluted by the resulting schism among the "base," then I, the establishment, will reap the ultimate benefits.
The ideal outcome, however, the one I would be praying for if I were the establishment, would be that the stalking horse wins the nomination after decimating the constitutionalist movement. Then he takes his kook fringe-friendly candidacy to the general election. He uses crude personal attacks and encourages thuggish mob intimidation against journalists, hecklers, or ordinary private citizens who question him. Many of his supporters are exposed as white nationalists, 9/11 truthers, rage-filled men and idol-worshipping women, thus "confirming" everything the political and media mainstream has said about the Tea Party for years. He is ambushed with a dozen nasty scandals about his business practices, his cronyism, his infidelities; and he is mocked for his incoherence, childish vocabulary, and sub-Palin ignorance on issues. He loses the general election to an Alinskyite neo-Marxist whom he used to support, whom he invited to his wedding, and about whom he once said she would make a great president.
As a result of all this, the next time around, when I say, "We have to rally behind the safe, electable candidate," who will have the gall to stand up and say, "No, we need an outsider to fight the Washington establishment"? Outsiders will be dead in the water for twenty years. The fractured constitutionalist movement will be back in its pen, timidly voting Republican because there is no plausible alternative. Rising anti-establishment threat effectively neutered; progressive ratchet to hell proceeding on schedule.
If I were the Washington establishment, I would be publicly tut-tutting Donald Trump about his rhetoric every day -- and going to sleep with a big smile on my face every night.