Donald Trump has managed to make one of the most common falsehoods about presidential elections temporarily true. Though most Americans believe that it is right and proper to vote for the candidate not the party in presidential elections (See Bloomberg DNC speech), the modern reality is that the party of the candidates for president has long been MUCH more relevant to success in office than their resumes, character, or intelligence. Our two-party system has simply never before produced a major party presidential candidate who was indisputably unqualified for the job, irrespective of his political leanings. This year, however, one of the two major party candidates for president actually is unfit for office; actually does lack the experience, temperament, and intelligence for the job. Thanks to Donald Trump, the 2016 presidential election really isn’t about Democrats versus Republicans or left versus right. It really is about qualified versus unqualified, sane versus insane, and smart versus dumb.
This election will be the first one in which candidate-centric rhetoric will be much more than just calculated distraction from substantive policy debate because Donald Trump broke the GOP presidential nominating system. An angry, ignorant demagogue without a clue about the job he seeks successfully hijacked the GOP nomination. The simple truth is that nobody can predict what Donald Trump would do as president. No one can count on him to champion any coherent policy agenda. His rhetoric is literally insane. His promises and boasts are indistinguishable from what one would expect from a mental patient.
At present, passionate religious conservatives long exploited by the GOP in elections but ignored by the GOP in the White House, Buchanan-esque culture warriors, and white supremacists make up Trump’s base. Some religious conservatives will realize that Trump is a very false profit before Election Day and that a Hillary Clinton victory will not hasten the apocalypse. Intelligent and engaged Republican leaders and voters will pass on the opportunity to put their party in charge of all three branches of the federal government in November because the risk is much too great. These folks will be forced to confront the decades-long GOP campaign of lies directed at Hillary Clinton as well as the potential damage Trump will do to the advancement of their principles and interests. They will not become enthusiastic “Clintonistas,” but they will become, reluctantly perhaps, “NeverTrumpers” consoled and comforted by the fact that Mrs. Clinton will be checked by a Republican Congress.
Before the full reality of Trump became clear to me, I assumed that 2016, like every other presidential election in this century, would boil down to an effective choice between continued divided government and a unified far-right GOP government. While this remains nominally true, the mental instability and ignorance of the GOP nominee renders potential GOP control of the government a certain catastrophe for politically liberal and moderate Americans (in other words, a clear majority of Americans). Amazingly, it also would be highly risky even for those on the far-right of the GOP. The power of the presidency in a dangerous world coupled with the indisputable dishonesty and incompetence of Donald Trump mean that he could effectively discredit conservatism and the GOP brand for decades to come.
Trump will lose in November, but not before taking the entire country on a wild ride that will further debase our national political conversation and further expose America’s urgent educational crisis. On November 8th a third or more of those who cast ballots for president will likely support the first objectively unfit candidate for president ever. America will dodge the political and cultural plague represented by Trump’s candidacy, but a full recovery from the cancer of Trumpism will require many years of constant and careful attention to the health of our body politic.