The air has been letting out of the Trump balloon for about a month now, i.e. since he won his party’s nomination. Polls have been showing about a five-point gap (sometimes more) favoring Hillary Clinton in a general election matchup. It’s not because Hillary Clinton has become more popular, it’s because Donald Trump has gotten less popular. This in turn is because Trump has a habit of opening his mouth and it continues to sound meaner and make less sense. Trump apparently has decided to let Donald be Donald. This does not mean “acting presidential” because apparently he figures he already is presidential.
In any event, it appears to me that The Donald has finally jumped the shark, which means that rather than seem interesting and different he now looks buffoonish, which was clear to many of us from the start. One problem with being a bully is that when you need to, you are unable to pivot. All Trump knows is how to be a bully. It’s served him well in business and in marketing himself. But as I noted years ago in an essay on bullying it only works until it does not. At some point the bully is stood up to and they can’t effectively counterpunch. Then the once feared bully suddenly looks impotent. In extreme cases they become objects of scorn or (worse) pity. Trump is already at the scorned phase.
It’s hard to say when Trump’s jump the shark moment occurred, but it will probably be reckoned when he attacked the federal judge overseeing the Trump University case. Finally we had an outrage so outrageous it could not be excused anymore by his own party. Republicans, at least those in the establishment, widely condemned his remarks. I can’t recall any Republican that stood by him on this. Judge Curiel after all did not take up the case; he was assigned the case, and had no axe to grind. But since this case could open Trump to racketeering charges, Trump saw the judge as a threat, so of course he went after him. Howls of protests from just about everywhere simply made him double down, then double-double down. That’s the bully’s modus operandi. There is a bull in a bully, and a bull is single-minded, making it hard to perceive threats.
It was followed by a self-congratulating tweet after the Orlando massacre that too was widely panned for its total lack of empathy toward the victims and families. But why should anyone be surprised? Trump does not know how to be empathetic. It likely wasn’t modeled in his father, who coached him on how great he was going to be (and gave him millions of dollars to try). There is no record of him volunteering in soup kitchens or homeless shelters. If he is a Presbyterian no one can recall the last time he was in church. Of course his brand is meanness, hardly the sort of attributes ascribed to Jesus.
There are lots of people that claim to be religious and are not, so Trump is hardly unique there. From the perspective of this non-Christian, most Christians in this country are not Christians, at least not ones that Jesus would recognize. Capitalism is our real state religion so at least Trump is its poster child there. After all, a good capitalist does not need to have a conscience. It certainly appears that Trump has none, considering how many investors of his affiliated companies and contractors that have done work for him that he has screwed over the years. But if you are a capitalist, it’s all okay if you can get away with it. And with the possible exception of the Trump University case, he’s proof that money can buy the justice you want.
If Trump can attract a majority of like-minded voters then he will be our next president. It seems unlikely that he can. A majority of voters polled (54%) said they would not vote for Trump versus 43% for Clinton. It’s hard to win an election with these kinds of numbers, unless you can suppress the numbers who plan to vote for Clinton. Only about a third of the country actually likes Trump. Even Republicans are souring on Trump. Paul Ryan is signaling it’s okay for Republican delegates to vote their consciences. It’s unclear if a Never Trump movement will gain traction but likely more than a few Republican candidates are quietly waiting in the wings for him to implode. (Maybe it’s just me, but as bad as Trump is Ted Cruz would actually be worse.) The Bush family won’t vote for him, which makes me wonder what their alternative is: to not vote at all or hold their noses and vote for Clinton? Some of the more liberal Republican governors (Charlie Baker here in Massachusetts and Larry Hogan in Maryland) have publicly said they won’t vote for him. To me the optics is pretty clear: you can’t win an election if you are so widely disliked and/or despised.
Lurking in the back of my mind are the obvious concerns. It’s more than four months to the election and lots of events (like yesterday’s Brexit vote in Great Britain) can swing the minds of voters. And perhaps Trump can pull a Houdini and completely reinvent himself, at least through the election, although I don’t see how he can convince enough people. When I divorce my fears and concentrate on the facts, I simply can’t see how Trump can be elected. There is no viable path and even if one suggested itself the Electoral College is pretty baked in. It would take a phenomenal Republican candidate and a dismal Democratic one to change them. Trump’s best hope is simply precedent: the last Democrat to succeed a Democratic president who left office after two full terms was Harry S Truman, and this was after the more than three terms that Franklin Roosevelt served.
So stepping out on a limb, I think Trump is toast already. What will prove more interesting is the how his degree of his unfavorability affects House and Senate races. Trump may be so toxic that the Trump effect may sweep not just the Senate but also the House into Democratic control. He might even end the Republican Party.