Like a movie monster created by a mad scientist, the candidate that Donald Trump has become was created semi-unwittingly by mischievous ultra-conservative Republicans who’ve relished annoying Democrats to distraction for the last six and a half years. Naturally, when the monster came alive, its creators marveled at their work and assumed they could control the creature when the time came for it.
Now some different Republicans, the kingmakers, must be wondering who in their party will be brave enough to face the monster, to put it down. After all, to fail on such a quest could be suicide, because the monster has plenty of fans who love how he’s scaring people they see as wimps. Unlike most of his campaign trail rivals, Trump has no voting record to defend. Nor does he have any responsibilities to make laws or govern, so he’s been able to pick the issues he wants to talk about and blow off the rest.
On July 11 in Phoenix, Trump staged a crowd-pleasing campaign event that made it look like he’s morphed into a threat that’s going to be hard to kill off. Down the road, the roaring Bluster Meister threatens to scuttle the elephants’ chances of taking the White House away from the donkeys in 2016. So plots to get Trump out of the presidential campaign picture are being hatched as you read this.
Still, without the groundwork having been laid in 2008 by putting silly Sarah Palin on the national ticket, without the noxious rhetoric of government-hating poseurs, without the flamboyance of reality-ignoring, right-wing pundits, the terrifying Bluster Meister probably wouldn’t be on the loose, roaming the countryside.
Too many Republicans stayed quiet while some within their ranks contorted themselves into birthers, just for fun. When Trump took ownership of birtherism, it was peachy. Laughing at that artificial issue and other absurdities that Fox News came up with to harass President Barack Obama — while thinking all that wicked good fun would come without a price tag — was foolish.
Although some Republicans have liked bluster for a long time, most conservatives used to stand firm on the notion they were all about hard-edged reality. Liberals were said to be dreamers. Now, flat-Earth Republicans don’t even believe in science when they see votes in pretending that evolution didn’t happen and isn’t happening, and in ignoring scientists who warn of the dangers of continuing to exacerbate climate change.
Don’t forget, the party’s leadership in Congress has sometimes thrown in with their fringe elements to make a big show of opposing Obama, just for the hell of it. Remember the bizarre threat to scuttle the federal government’s ability to pay its debts, all in the midst of a routine budget debate? Now the bill for all that snickering under the Republican big tent has come due. Trumpism has become a force.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party’s leadership is allowing Fox News to play a significant role in shaping the campaign. That network soon will determine which presidential hopefuls are to be considered as viable candidates. Its debate set for Aug. 6 in Cleveland will allow only 10 candidates on the stage, based entirely on their positions in national opinion polls.
After that first Republican debate, we’re going to see what headlines Trump will make by throwing red meat to his fans. If that bumps him up in the polls, it will encourage the other candidates to either denounce his style, or to imitate it. Denouncing Trump risks alienating a good number of tea party sympathizers who vote in primaries. Imitating him could make winning a general election impossible.
Trump’s demagogue-style rhetoric aimed at several issues really isn’t so different in substance from what other candidates are saying. Trump obviously realized that if he restated a lot of the familiar tea party talking points, he could steal the spotlight by just topping all the other conservatives with an extra helping of attitude — more swagger than polite campaigning allows. It has worked like a charm.
All of which has suggested to some observers that Trump might secretly be a self-styled mole working to sabotage the Republicans’ prospects next year. With Trump’s history of backing Democrats, that sort of accusation may surface from a disgruntled candidate who fails to make the cut for the Fox News debate. If a minor candidate blurts out such a charge it probably would make news. Should that happen, Trump’s counterpunch reaction is likely to be entertaining.
As other candidates run out of resources and the field gets smaller, one or more of the conventional campaigners should pass Trump in the opinion polls. Still, having gotten a taste of instilling fear in his political opponents, it’s hard to imagine that the Bluster Meister will exit the field gracefully, should he see his path to the nomination solidly blocked.
A third-party run by Trump could heap widespread disaster on the Republican Party in 2016. Some movie monsters are not only hard to kill, they won’t stay dead. S
F.T. Rea is an artist and writer who lives in the Fan District.
Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.