Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Trump's Rubicon

Only a couple remarks need saying in the wake of Donald Trump's latest remarks, which I'm sure you already heard about.

First, despite Trump's supposedly soaring poll numbers, his active supporters in the Republican primaries were a very small fraction of the American voting public: voters, minus Democrats and independents (which is most of them), minus Republicans who aren't paying attention to the campaign yet (which is most of what's left), minus Republicans who support other candidates (which is most of what's left over again), minus the people who answer randomly to telephone surveys.

Which is encouraging, because it means that no matter how Trump's small fringe support group might feel about his new Nazi-esque policy platform, his chances of winning election were already almost zero. Now they probably are zero.

Second, however, it's important to see what happens next. Trump's support will decline, but it won't go to zero. Personality cults form around people who seem profoundly unlikeable all the time -- Stalin, Kim, Rob Ford, Trump. People who can be persuaded that the world is their enemy and that he will protect him won't mind if he gets condemned by the prime minister of France or the editors of the New York Times. In fact, those condemnations will simply confirm in their minds that he's the right guy.

The term "Rubicon" comes from ancient Rome. In Roman law, it was the river that a general's army cannot cross except as an act of treason; once that is done, there is no going back. Trump has crossed the Rubicon and must face his fate.

The question is, how many Americans will be willing to go with him.

Fifteen years ago this would have been utterly unthinkable. Now there's almost certainly a constituency for it.

What happens fifteen years from now?

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