I’ve been thinking a lot about Tom Clancy Combat Concepts. That was the name that actual long-time military and intelligence people gave the thinking of the Bush administration’s neophytes. After 9/11, these people wanted to be “hard” in their fight against terrorism. And we definitely saw that once the documents about the torture program were released. It wasn’t about being effective and getting intelligence. It was about showing the chickenhawks of the Bush White House than they were “strong” and willing to do whatever was required. It’s pathetic. But it is entirely in keeping with what the Republican Party is all about.
Jonathan Chait made a good point recently, Donald Trump, Affect, and the Conservative Mind. In the article, he pointed out that there are two parts to the conservative mind: ideological and emotional. That can be said about liberals too, of course. The critical issue is what the emotions are. And for conservatives it is mostly anger about their loss of privilege. This is a result of conservatism being backward looking. You can’t stand athwart history yelling stop without resenting the fact that history is, in fact, moving along quite well without you.
Chait argued that Donald Trump appeals to this emotional aspect of conservatism. He noted that the Republican Party has constantly appeased the base with ever and ever greater ideological purity. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter. A large part of the base doesn’t actually care about ideology. They are just mad as hell and they don’t want to take it anymore. But they aren’t mad at the power elite, who are the ones who have actually hurt them. They are mad at the minorities and the Muslims. And the Republican Party is the one that is best at demagoguing these issues. But Chait nailed the effect of Trump’s current popularity, “It must be galling for the party regulars to prostrate themselves helplessly before the base, purging any hint of independent thought, only to watch a formerly pro-choice, libertine if not liberal, Democratic donor waltz into the lead.”
I’m not at all interested in Donald Trump as a candidate. I certainly expect him to flame out. It reminds me of the 1988 Democratic presidential election. Early on (in 1987), I decided that there were two candidates I could support: Joe Biden and Michael Dukakis. I picked Biden. But after he flamed out, I looked at Dukakis and found that he was an excellent substitute and that I could easily have supported him from the beginning. That’s what I expect to happen with Trump supporters. They will find that they don’t like some of his positions and they will move from him to Ted Cruz and eventually to Jeb Bush or Scott Walker. Because that’s the thing: in the end, there isn’t any difference with regard to general outlook.
But early decisions are based more on the gut. You “like” a particular candidate. And the Republican base really likes Donald Trump. He is everything that they want in a candidate: he’s rich, belligerent, and not terribly bright. I suspect that the elite opinion against him is mostly just because they don’t think that he can win the general election. That is to say: they too like his style. And why not? He is “hard” in the sense of Tom Clancy Combat Concepts. If you listen to Republicans on the Iran nuclear deal, you will hear this. The deal is not bad because of any specifics, but rather because of some gauzy idea that a “stronger” or “harder” president would get a better deal.
I hope that the Republicans do nominate Trump. If he happened to win the general election, he would be a far less frightening president than all the “establishment” Republicans — Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker — who we are supposed to think would be just fine.