|Trump after the third debate, as portrayed by actress Glenn Close.|
I would be remiss if I didn't note here the panic among Clinton supporters that all this talk of Trump's possible stepping down has provoked.
On Facebook, quite a few people seem genuinely unnerved by the possibility that Trump would step down, leaving Pence or some other improbable figure (John Kasich?) to rally the Republicans to victory. With just five weeks to go until the election.
Here's a message for my Clinton-supporting friends: You can't scream for months that Donald Trump is a unique threat to humanity, different from all other Republican threats we've seen, going back Goldwater, and then, when it seems like we might finally and happily be spared this unique fascist threat, panic. Just because you fear that it would mean your candidate won't win. That kind of response undermines everything you've been saying these last few months.I don't spend a lot of time, or indeed almost any, on Facebook, so maybe that's why I'm missing out on this phenomenon, but I really haven't seen it on the old Twitter. In any case I'd like to say that I, as one Clinton supporter, am not even somewhat unnerved by the prospect of Trump stepping down. In fact I really wish he would, for an assortment of reasons:
For one thing, personal gratification, because it would be a belated realization of what I predicted, three months ago, just after the naming of Mike Pence as vice-presidential candidate—that that was the reason for naming that firmly stuffed shirt, to give Trump a way of exiting with some kind of intact dignity:
As for Trump himself, he's a real choke artist, as we know from his real estate career. What he likes to do is to back out of a deal toward the end, working mainly to look as if he's in control and preserving his brand: that's why there are so many projects in the New York–New Jersey area named after him though he hasn't owned them for years, if ever. His ideal solution to his political problem would be to duck out of the presidential campaign with that $5-billion payoff and naming rights to the party, which could now be called the Trump Party and Republican Golf Resort.
Naming the nominee, serving as a Shortfinger the Kingmaker pushing his own candidate nobody's ever quite heard of, would be playing his Apprentice role, which begins with the assumption that he is the best person for all jobs by definition and therefore the best person to decide who's good enough. Who's better than the winner? The host of the show!He waited too long, and now the kitchen's out of dignity and he'll have to make do with the chicken.* But the humiliation that awaits him over the next four or five weeks is more extreme than what he's already suffered, and he still has a chance to avoid it.
*Anybody who's ever worked in food service needs to read this flight attendant's story of Trump in 1971, which crystallizes who he is in a way better than the hot-mic incident.
Second, I don't see how such a development would affect the electoral math in a bad way. Do Robin's jittery Facebook friends really think the Republican voters are going to heave a huge sigh of relief and come out in unprecedented masses to vote for the person who liberated them from the Trumpian menace? Excuse me, these people are the Trumpian menace. They don't want to be liberated, they want to make America grotty again. In the first survey after the hot-mic video, yesterday, 74% of Republican voters declared that the party should "stand behind Trump", and only 13% thought it shouldn't. Switching to Pence is going to lose more of these people (I happen to think the polls overestimate how likely the Trump voters are to vote at all) than it will gain from the legions following Bill Kristol who claimed they would never vote for Trump, because those legions consist of about 400 people who all live in New York City or DC.
Indeed, a shakeup at the top of the ticket might well discourage Republican turnout overall, as it would encourage Democratic votes among those who love the feeling of backing the winner in the last week or two of the campaign (OK, I made that up to some extent, but I'm sure I read it somewhere—it is the case that the Trump operation has specifically aimed at unlikely voters, though). The more chaos within the Republican organization, with its already shoddy GOTV effort and shortage of money, the greater the hopes for a Democratic takeover of Congress, which (fond as I am of Clinton myself) should now be Democrats' principal aim.
Finally, it would just be better. The Trump-centered campaign (which it's been, really, since Hillary sewed up the nomination in April) is a hugely entertaining campaign, but it's been terrible civics. Because
- the Trump campaign is a fundamentally empty reality show
- there's a picture of Clinton as criminal psychopath growing out of the rightwing media but unfortunately grabbed onto by a few members of the self-denominated left in the heat of the primary campaign
- Trump actually is a criminal psychopath
- the media has an obsession with agonistics (the drama of who's winning) and symmetry (the creation of equal and opposite sides)
Trump actually is unique, to my mind (he resembles George W. Bush or, say, Warren G. Harding in his empathy deficit and his lack of interest in government, but is far crazier than either), but not a unique threat. He represents, or ought to have represented, a unique opportunity to Democrats, to clarify the exact nature of the Republican ethos of class hegemony, selfishness, and civic irresponsibility, because he's really unable to hide it the way a Paul Ryan or Mike Pence can.
But now that we've got his image fixed in our minds, it would be nice to carry on the discussion in terms of principle. It would be nice, if the Republican establishment managed to get rid of Trump. to ask Pence about his views on taxes or education or immigration and challenge him to explain in what respect he's different from Trump.
I wouldn't mind seeing a debate between Clinton and Pence! We wouldn't get a consensus on who "won", for the TV news to put on their checklist, but the audience might learn something, for a change, about what the candidates would do if they were elected. That would be an OK thing!
Trump is not an accident, he is the true face of the GOP base https://t.co/F4UMLwMLi7— Paul Krugman (@paulkrugman) October 9, 2016