The Donald Trump Show (Strangers in Cars)

Donald Trump.

There is plenty about this morning’s report from Niall Stanage of The Hill worth considering:

Republican insiders are reconciling themselves to the idea that Donald Trump won’t be exiting the stage anytime soon — and their main concern now is limiting his damage to their party.

The GOP establishment is almost universally hostile to Trump, who has soared in the 2016 polls on the back of his celebrity, his outspoken statements on immigration and trade deals, and media coverage of his antics.

Many party strategists believe Trump did himself serious damage with his recent remarks denigrating Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) experiences while a prisoner of war in Hanoi, Vietnam — but there is not yet conclusive polling evidence available.

Meanwhile, Trump has made clear that he has no serious intention of reining in his rhetoric — or curbing his propensity to tweak the nose of anyone who displeases him. On Tuesday, shortly after fellow White House contender Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had referred to the businessman as a “jackass,” Trump read out Graham’s cellphone number on live television during a campaign event in the senator’s home state.

During that appearance, Trump also called Graham “a stiff” and an “idiot,” and took shots at another critic and 2016 hopeful, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, saying he’d begun wearing glasses to make himself look smarter.

Among Washington Republicans, the hope is that voters will tire of such comments and that Trump will have to push his boat out into ever-murkier waters to continue to command attention.

Well, okay, sort of. There really is nothing to compare to the reality television spectacle of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. Over at msnbc, last night, Steve Kornacki helmed TRMS, and pretty much made the point in the eighteen minute A-block by reminding us that Gov. John Kasich of Ohio also declared his presidential candidacy yesterday. And there certainly remains a question of whether Donald Trump’s spectacularly bizarre performance in South Carolina was specifically intended to obscure the arrival of the sixteenth major Republican presidential candidate.

As Mr. Trump’s poll numbers grow, so does Republican institutional consternation; the television celebrity has leapt into first place among poll averages, with RealClearPolitics suggesting a five point lead over Jeb Bush. Still, the Trump factor is something of a mystery:

Republican voters have lost their minds: We can call this a low-probability suggestion in two ways. First, it is unlikely simply in the immediate circumstance that the chance to vote for Donald Trump to be president is a long-harbored secret desire of conservatives across the nation. Also, though, there are plenty who might suggest Republican voters lost their minds a long time ago.

Skewed polls: Interestingly, this is a time to be watching for skewed polls, except it really seems ridiculous to suggest the ABC News/WaPO, FOX News, and USA Today/Suffolk polls are all skewing for Mr. Trump. But here’s the thing: After all the complaining and accusing about poll skewing in the 2012 cycle, part of the defense for the FOX News debate standards causing so much controversy is that polling is time-tested and reliable, which is strange enough for conservatives to say in general, and even stranger considering we are still sixteen months away from the election and early polling is tremendously unreliable. Yet with the FOX News debate rules shifting candidate focus from local appeals and early-state voters to clamoring for attention in the national polling, poll numbers are especially important. Still, though, we should reiterate to ourselves and anyone else that this is exceptionally unlikely.

Poll participation: A pet thesis until someone finds a better explanation, this is somewhat simple despite sounding nearly alarming. Among poll-related controversies has been the question of market representation, and it’s a bit hard to figure out what telephone pollers have done to account for the changing telecommunications landscape. But even the mobile phone question might well sit aside this time because what if it is simply a matter of participation? How many people pass on political polls? And of those, how many might choose to answer the survey this time because they have a dog in the fight, because they want to vote for the recognizable television star? And, yes, that suggestion is somewhat alarming, as it would speak poorly of those poll respondents, but it makes more sense than the alternatives. And tending toward a point Kornacki covered last night, the magnitude of the spectacle continues to draw attention. While the political world should be moving on to more serious considerations, the Consummate Clown insists on putting on that kind of show. One of the most fascinating questions remaining after the 2016 election cycle finishes will be how this happened, and for now the leading suggestion would have to be an overdose of reality television mentality.

We shouldn’t be gratifiying Mr. Trump by paying attention, yet it is nearly impossible to look away. This is a presidential contest, and while any cycle is pretty much assured to bring some strangeness, the 2016 preseason is a banner year, and Donald Trump is apparently the GOP’s freak flag.

Let it fly, let it fly, let it fly.

Or not.

At some point, this conservative clusterdiddle will resolve into a serious election. Just, you know, try to not be surprised when that happens, and until then, don’t forget what it actually looks and sounds like. It may actually come about that dragging Democrats into the abyss is their only hope, and given a choice between an historical pretense of dignity and the latest marketing fad, Americans have made ourselves pretty clear; we’ll go to war for the sake of entertainment. So when the Trump trolley tells you to get with the times, it really should be easy enough to just say no. And remember your parents’ lessons about getting in cars with creepy strangers. With this crazy old man asking you to come, why would you ever get on in the first place?

____________________

Stanage, Niall. “Trump’s success annoys GOP”. The Hill. 22 July 2015.

Kornacki, Steve. “Less known Republican candidates struggle in Donald Trump’s shadow”. The Rachel Maddow Show. msnbc. 21 July 2015.

Real Clear Politics. “2016 Republican Presidential Nomination”. 19 July 2015.

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