We still have five more months of Trump vs. Hillary. Then four or eight years of — what?
By Victor Davis Hanson // National Review Online
The Disaffected. Will stay-home so-called establishment Republicans outnumber renewed Reagan Democrats, Tea Partiers, and conservative independents, some of whom likely sat out 2008 and 2012, but who now are likely to vote for Trump? The latter energized group will probably continue to support Trump even if he persists in his suicidal detours like the legal gymnastics of Trump University, or if he keeps repeating ad nauseam the same stale generalities he has served up throughout his campaign.
And will the ranks of the #NeverTrump holdouts, despite claims to the contrary in the spring, thin by autumn, should Trump change a few of his odious spots and become a more disciplined candidate? Will his populist message be recalibrated to appeal to minorities who, albeit less publicly than their white counterparts, resent illegal immigration and its effects on the poor and working classes, are angry about record labor nonparticipation and elite boutique environmentalism, and appreciate tough, even if crazed, El Jefe talk in place of politically correct platitudes?
If Trump comes up with a detailed, even if clumsily delivered, conservative agenda, and if a now-die-hard-leftist Hillary Clinton continues to deprecate and caricature the entire conservative tradition, will he who seems a buffoon in June prove preferable in November to ensuring a 16-year Obama–Clinton regnum?
Anti-Hillary vs. Anti-Trump. Will Sanders holdouts roughly approximate the number of Republican #NeverTrumpers? For now, it would be more socially acceptable for a Sanders supporter to vote for Hillary than for an anti-Trumper to give in and vote for Trump. Voting for Hillary would not entail the social and class costs for a Sanders supporter that voting for Trump would for a Republican of the “not-in-my-name” Romney or Jeb Bush wing. The Wall Street Journal is more likely to show repugnance for the idea of finishing the wall than an advocate of Sanders’s 70 percent top tax rate is to reject Hillary’s less radical, though radical enough, idea of upping the current 39.5 percent top rate. An oddity of the campaign is that the Republican establishment applies a higher standard to its own candidate than it has applied to either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, who, with a modicum of research, can be proven to have matched Trump, slur for slur.
Criminality. No one knows at this point whether Hillary will be indicted or, if she is not, whether her exemption will trigger outrage in the FBI ranks that will garner headline notoriety even in the liberal media. Almost daily, yet another detail in the e-mail scandal emerges that reinforces the narrative that everything Hillary has said so far about her e-mails has been demonstrably false. More importantly, the Clintons, especially post-2000, became a near-criminal enterprise. Almost weekly over the last few months, we have learned of a new wrinkle to the Clinton Foundation’s pay-to-play syndicate. Bill Clinton was apparently, at $4 million a year, the highest-paid “chancellor” in the history of American higher education, for steering toward the scandal-plagued Laureate “University” millions of dollars in business from the State Department, which was run by his wife. Because the Clintons became so rich so quickly, and without any apparent mechanism other than leveraging government service, there is a two-decades reservoir of scandals that is largely untapped — suggesting that Balzac’s aphorism should be amended to read in the plural, “Behind every great fortune there are plenty of great crimes.”
The Obama Matrix. Pollsters are still trying to calibrate to what degree Hillary will recapture Obama’s record minority registration, turnout, and block voting — and whether such pandering will in turn spike the white-male anti-Hillary vote to record levels. There is something foreign and uncomfortable about Hillary’s faux-accented performances; perhaps her shrill obsequiousness will strike at least some minority voters as a sort of elite white and repugnant condescension. No one likes a transparent suck-up, especially by someone whose past record of honesty and character is so disreputable. Conventional wisdom suggests that the supposed “new” demography will allow Hillary to replicate the Obama coalition, but that assumes that minority voters, who supposedly vote along ethnic and racial lines, are comfortable with Hillary’s tastes and with her disingenuous career, and will vote as they did in 2008 and 2012, more than making up for new white-working-class converts to Trump.
Trump Factor X. Will the so-called “Trump disconnect” continue, an intangible that for over a year has humiliated pundits who have made serially erroneous forecasts of his demise? In other words, no one has yet been able to calibrate the degree to which Trump has made politics irrelevant and substituted harsh, politically incorrect, and often crude expression and rhetoric for any kind of detailed agenda. No one knows quite how the weird Trump factor that propelled him through the primaries will play in the far wider arena of the general election, but all of us have met in our own circles the most surprising and unexpected Trump supporters, who cite no resonant political affinity with Trump other than shared furor over politically correct and censored speech, and the need for someone — almost anyone will do — to throw a wrecking ball through the politically correct glass houses of our society. No one knows how many of his supporters are silent, embarrassed to state publicly their support for one so uncouth; no one knows what he may say or do on any given day — or the full effect of his outbursts — and no one quite appreciates that what appears outlandish to elites may appear genuine and earthy to others. Today experts laugh that a supposedly buffoonish Sarah Palin sank the otherwise sober and judicious McCain campaign; but, in truth, polls at the times suggested that she was either not a factor or perhaps a plus to the ticket. In any case, the McCain–Palin ticket was ahead of Obama until the Wall Street meltdown in September of 2008. Elites who said they knew no one who liked Palin in truth must have known very few Americans at all.
The Media. Trump sailed to primary victories on a Machiavellian wave of media manipulation; he had Kardashian-like pull, and at very little cost could leverage network attention — either on the premise that his buffoonery was a ratings plus, or because leftist flutists were willing to play for Trump in the hopes of leading Republican lemmings over the cliff. What is certain is that in the general election, the media will revert to form and become an institutionalized extension of the Clinton campaign; Trump mania will no longer be useful to either their profits or their political objectives. Then we will see just how adroit Trump is as a media showman, when journalists are out to get him rather than to be entertained by him. Moreover, the billion-dollar-plus free publicity of early 2016 may have left the Trump organization complacent, expecting that it could glide to a general-election victory without massive fundraising and a serious ground game. That delusion might mean that Trump’s people will never quite catch up with Hillary’s money and get-out-the-vote machine.
Septuagenarians. Will the health of the 68-year-old Clinton and the nearly 70-year-old Trump hold up under the grueling next five months of summer and autumn campaigning? Actuarial tables suggest that both would likely be able to finish out two terms, but the point is not necessarily longevity, but robustness. In other words, which of the two elderly candidates — in combined age, they are the oldest nominees in two-party history — will be the more likely to crisscross the country and put in 16-hour days? While Trump — at about the same age as the hollowed-out, wraith-like Bill Clinton — does not seem to be a model of fitness, so far he exhibits an animal energy lacking in Hillary.
Obama — on the Back Nine or on the Stump? As long as Barack Obama keeps out of sight, and things run on autopilot, half the country likes the abstract idea that he is president. In contrast, when he campaigns, demagogues, slurs, and expresses his inner narcissism, his ratings dip to near 40 percent. If he slams Trump from abroad, delivers another stuttering, incoherent rant against Trump, offers the Clintons more snarky backhanded compliments (Hillary is “likeable enough”), or issues more end-of-the-regime executive orders, he will prove by November more a negative than a plus. For now, Hillary is flummoxed about how to win his allegiance (both political and legal) without having to defend a disastrous $11 trillion in additional debt, a mess overseas (in which, to be sure, she had a hand), Obamacare, and a sluggish economy of slow growth and record labor-force non-participation — or what Bill Clinton summed up succinctly as the “awful legacy of the last eight years.” Obama could help Hillary best by giving a pro-forma endorsement and then staying on the golf course until November. If, instead, Obama goes on the stump for her, it may be counterproductive — and in some subliminal fashion therefore preferable for the egocentric Obama.
The News. If Putin stays within his boundaries, if the Chinese and North Koreans refrain from doing something stupid, if Iran curbs its braggadocio and does not hijack another American boat, if ISIS fails to pull off another major terrorist operation, and if the economy continues to stagger along, then the superficial calm works to Hillary’s advantage. But if in the next five months we have a foreign crisis or an economic slowdown, then Hillary in relation to Obama replays the role of McCain in relation to Bush in 2008 — but squared, given Hillary’s tenure in the Obama administration. Obama, with massive defense cuts, lead-from-behind and reset diplomacy, and treating allies as neutrals and enemies as friends, has endangered America abroad and weakened it at home. The tab is coming due, but whether it will arrive before November is unclear. Certainly, the latest tragedy of the the mass shooting in Florida suggests that having a president and a would-be president who, for politically correct reasons, cannot utter the phrase “radical Islam” or “Islamic terrorism” in the context of Muslims who kill innocents out of religious zeal and hatred is not a sustainable proposition.
The Rot. We do not quite know to what the degree the public is sick of the New York–Washington rot, encompassing Obama’s petty identity politics, the Clintons’ grifter enterprises, the sanctimonious and ossified Republican establishment, the incestuous network of cable and media pundits, and the general sense that our elites of both parties never expect the consequences of their own ideologies to apply to themselves. The general repugnance for traditional politicians, cable-news wizards, and Wall Street profiteers fueled both Sanders and Trump, despite the contradictions of their own relationships with big money, big politics, and big media. But as Sanders drops out of the race, Trump alone will remain the more populist and anti-establishment of the final two candidates. The idea of socialist Sanders supporters flocking to Trump should seem wholly lunatic. But the same youthful incoherence that drew the naïve to Sanders might to some degree draw them now to Trump, on the basis that he dislikes Hillary, Inc., even more than did Sanders. The wonder (to paraphrase Dr. Johnson on female preachers and dancing dogs) is not that Trump might capture a fair number of Sanders voters, but that he could capture any at all.
Final thoughts: If Trump were to win, the Democratic/Clinton establishment would be mostly discredited and the party would move even further to the Left, in McGovern 1972 fashion, while its Republican establishment counterpart would wander in a post-1964-like wilderness.
If Hillary prevails, we will likely see a 16-year continuum of fundamental change, the likes of which have not been seen since the 20 years between 1933 and 1952 — though Obama has none of the redeeming virtues of FDR on foreign policy, nor Hillary those of Truman. Meanwhile the blame-gaming among Republicans that would follow a Clinton victory (with one wing arguing that stay-homes sabotaged Trump and the other wing saying it was Neanderthals who nominated him) might well destroy the party, given that its class fissures, first revealed in the defections to the 1992 and 1996 Perot campaigns, have now become an abyss.
In the meantime, perhaps #NeverTrumpers should adopt one rule for the sake of party unity: For each of their attacks on the Republican nominee, vow to match it with one attack on the Democratic nominee. And for each conservative guest editorialist in the New York Times or Washington Post deploring what the Republicans have done, perhaps a #NeverHillary liberal might write a commensurate critical op-ed about Clinton in The Weekly Standard or National Review.