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Posted by on Jan 30, 2016 in At TMV | 9 comments

Why Trump Won’t Be President

David Roberts explains why one-trick pony Donald Trump won’t be President on

One of the best things I’ve read this year about Trump’s appeal is by Josh Marshall. It hearkens back to his (legendary in some circles) 2004 post about “bitch-slap politics.” Marshall has wisely abandoned that term, but the concept behind it has never been more relevant. It’s about dominance displays, about showing, rather than arguing, that one’s opponent is weak. It’s done not through critique but through attack — personal attack — demonstrating that the target will not or can not defend him or herself. The attack doesn’t make the point, it is the point.

That approach has proven immensely potent in the GOP primary. The angry white people flocking to Trump feel like they’re getting snubbed, looked down on, and passed over, that a new America culture is rising up around them and it has no place for them. And now, here is one of their own — okay, maybe not struggling like them, but definitely pissed off and politically incorrect like them — expressing their fears and resentments, without apology.

Trump is their avatar. And he is making all the fancy-pants politicos and journalists bend a knee and kiss his ring. They can’t hurt him, and he makes sure they know it. He is a florid middle finger to every one of the cultural elites his followers feel disdained by.

They’ve been getting crapped on years. Now someone is taking their side and doing some of the crapping. They love it. They don’t necessarily love him, but they love watching him stick it to the elites. And why wouldn’t they? They are, through Trump, winning again, like they used to back in the good old days.

Trump’s shtick excites a portion of the electorate — resentful, xenophobic, white — that is more robust than most political elites realized, but the shtick also polarizes. Trump has higher unfavorables than any of his opponents. Taken to a national race, his current act will even more sharply divide an already polarized country.

And here’s the bedrock obstacle to Trump’s success: there are simply not enough struggling, resentful, xenophobic white people in the US to constitute a national majority sufficient to win a presidential election.

So to win, Trump will have to reach out to moderates or independents or white-collar professionals or Latinos or college-educated women or … some other demographic. Endless dominance displays will not do that. He’ll have to soften his approach, to show some respect and gravitas, to display some empathy, to demonstrate that he has a grasp of policy. Bush-style “compassionate conservatism” is the only kind capable of building a national majority any more. Can Trump do that? Can he modulate his act? Can he appeal to different demographics? Well, he never has. And nothing in his history or behavior indicates that he’s capable of it.

He must be in control, have all the leverage, in every situation. (If he doesn’t, he just declares bankruptcy and moves on.) He is hyper-attuned to disrespect or disloyalty, as the feud with Fox News this week showed. And a hair-trigger fight-or-flight reflex makes him prone to outbursts and personal attacks whenever he feels threatened, which is often.

It’s pathological. And the thing about pathologies is that they cannot be taken on and off like masks. They are pre-conscious; they order incoming experience. Trump may “pledge a personality change” as president, but personalities do not change overnight. Narcissistic personality disorder is not a strategy, it’s a condition.

In a general campaign, Trump will not be surrounded by supplicants like he’s accustomed to. He won’t be able skip debates and bully journalists for an entire election. He will be put under intense stress and scrutiny, forced to improvise answers to difficult questions that he doesn’t get to choose.

And when he’s pushed, he’ll lash out, again and again, and eventually people will notice that lashing out is all he’s capable of. He’ll face setbacks, and people will notice that arrogant bluster sounds a little tinny and desperate coming from someone who’s down.

People will see his personality on display in circumstances not of his choosing, for the first time. And they’ll recoil at the idea of him holding the nuclear codes. Maybe core Republican voters will stay with him no matter what, but he’ll repel more than enough non-core voters to foreclose a winning coalition.

Bottom line: the strongman approach is inherently self-limiting. It flourishes in the bizarro environs of a modern Republican primary, but there is no evidence at all, and much to the contrary, that it could be used to assemble a national majority. Yet it is the only approach in Trump’s toolbox. That is why he will never be president.

Cross-posted from The Sensible Center

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Copyright 2016 The Moderate Voice
  • Wow! This is the best psychological assessment I have read on the pathology of Trump and his base.

    I have also given a lot of thought to how much of a personality ‘change’ Trump will have to fake, or how many masks he will have to take off or put on, during the general campaign.

    For example, as Roberts alludes to, how will he react to/lash out at the heckling and protests that are sure to come from a mixed audience, etc., etc.

    My biggest fear is that this deceitful, con artist chameleon may just be able to fool a sufficient number of people during the generals elections.

    God help us!

    f both the pathological GOP

  • The problem with this argument is the assumption that the Donald Trump we currently see is the only possible Donald Trump. I think this is an act, and he is capable of other acts.

    It is not as if this is the only Donald Trump act which is possible. In the past he was far more moderate, often supporting Democratic positions.

    I think that Trump analyzed the Republican base and came up with an act which he knew would appeal to a large enough number to get him the nomination. If this works, he then comes up with a new act for the general election.

    He certainly has some psychological issues, so he may or may not be able to pull this off. He also may or may not be able to con enough voters into ignoring what was said during the primaries.

    My bet is that Trump tries to capitalize on division such as being the outsider versus the establishment, being the guy who can get things done versus gridlock, and (especially if Clinton is the nominee) integrity versus corruption.

    Plus if he has the GOP nomination, there is no saying what will happen in the next several months. While I doubt the current FBI investigation will lead to Clinton being indicted, that is still a possibility, I think there is a far greater chance that some of her top aides, who were more directly involved with transmitting classified information, will take the fall. Still, what happens if Cheryl Mills and/or Huma Abedin are indicted and Clinton is the Democratic candidate? Can her campaign survive that? Even without an indictment, there is far too much evidence of improper action on Clinton’s part out there. It could dominate the campaign, preventing her from getting any other message out.

    The campaign could easily become one of “You’re a crook.” “I am not a crook.” “Yes you are, You’re fired.”

    Or events we have not predicted could come up. In a two way race (should Trump win the GOP nomination), Trump can not be counted out.

    • Ron, you are thinking like a Democrat. This isn’t about policy positions, which Trump adopts and discards at his convenience. I fully expect him to change positions shamelessly according to what is expedient.

      I think you are giving Trump far more credit than he deserves in suggesting he can change his spots in terms of personality and interactive style. As Roberts points out in answer to this question (“Can Trump soften his persona to appeal to the broader electorate?”):

      He never has. And nothing in his history or behavior indicates that he’s capable of it.

      Trump has always been the same bullying, blustery, self-promoter with incredibly thin skin that we have seen in the campaign. It is who he is.

    • dduck

      Ron, now you are getting it.

    • Or it could go…

      “You’re a socialist. ”
      “Yes, I am.”
      “I’m a capitalist. You’re fired.”

      • Sure it could go like that, but Republicans think that any Democrat is a socialist, so it hardly matters who the candidate is. They already thought Obama was not only a Marxist Socialist, but a Muslim born in Kenya.

    • Brownies girl

      Ron writes: “I think this is an act, and he is capable of other acts.” … “I think that Trump analyzed the Republican base and came up with an act which he knew would appeal to a large enough number to get him the nomination. If this works, he then comes up with a new act for the general election.”

      You keep writing about ‘acts’ … is this what the majority of Republican voters are willing to accept?! Really? New “acts” that Trump comes up with? And because of this, you write: “Trump can not be counted out.” I pray fervently to the higher spirit that you are truly underestimating the intelligence of the American electorate.

      • ”I pray fervently to the higher spirit that you are truly underestimating the intelligence of the American electorate.”

        I hope so too, but I fear that my assessment of the American electorate is correct. After all, it elected George W Bush not once but twice (or at least kept the vote close enough so he could win with the problems in Florida). This country also elected Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan for two terms each. They even fell for the “New Nixon” act.

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