“Can you believe it?”
Everywhere we go in town, that’s the conversation starter. Eyebrows arch. Tempers rise. A sense of exasperation takes over.
The subject, of course, is the Donald Trump phenomenon. And the short answer is, “Unfortunately, it’s all too believable.”
The conversations were guaranteed to accelerate on Tuesday as Republican voters went to polls and caucuses in 11 states and appeared certain to propel Trump’s candidacy even further in what has become a most extraordinary political season.
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Whether he will march all the way to Cleveland and take the crown at the Republican National Convention has not yet totally been settled. But who’s really going to stop him? Marco Rubio? Ted Cruz? John Kasich? Get real. If Trump conquers Rubio’s Florida and Kasich’s Ohio in the contests on March 15 — as polls suggest is a likely scenario — the GOP race really will be over.
But even before then Trump’s candidacy is proving to be volcanic on the American landscape. The Republican Party surely will never be the same. But the GOP has gotten what it has sown. Much as Republicans would like to, they can’t blame everything on President Barack Obama. Party leaders and die-hard conservatives are now contorting themselves with the crisis they themselves must own. Perhaps they can find wisdom if not solace in wondering about their forebears: What would Abraham Lincoln do? What would Ronald Reagan do?
Donald Trump. He’s vile. He’s vicious. He represents the ugliest of ugly Americanism. The party of Reagan and Lincoln and House Speaker Paul Ryan surely is ashamed. And yet he is the choice of 49 percent of Republicans, according to a recent poll, to be their next president. And barring a debacle on Tuesday, that number is certain to grow.
Yes, people are angry. And yes, they are frustrated with political gridlock and the status quo of power elites in Washington.
Trump’s wide range of supporters don’t give one hoot about what we think, or what the GOP establishment thinks, or least of all Hillary Clinton. Trump’s backers just have become certain that he’s the man to clean it all up. He’s the embodiment of throw-the-bums-out. His nastiest qualities, his appeal to the worst of American nativist impulses — hello, David Duke — none of it seems to matter to the fawning crowds at his rallies or the closet Trumpsters in American boardrooms or elsewhere in supposedly polite society.
Exit polls continue to confirm that voters are going his way because Trump “tells it like it is.” It makes no difference what “it” is, or whether Trump has ever explained “it” in any coherent or achievable detail.
It makes no difference that he would be the one with his finger on the proverbial red button. And it hardly matters that no one knows how or whether he could possibly govern. All that matters is that Trump is Trump.
Heaven help us.
As voter turnout continues to flood for Trump in the GOP contests, the challenge for the Democratic Party is to ensure a sense of enthusiasm for its likely candidate, Clinton, and to hope that her genuine ability to appear presidential, in contrast to Trump, will make a real difference.