I think much of the analysis of Trump has not quite grappled with… the reality that parties operate like herds. The focus on the individual is natural, and somewhat appropriate, given Trump’s extraordinarily disqualifying combination of personal traits. Still, all of Trump’s personal and ideological tics can be connected to decades-long trends within the Republican Party toward anti-intellectualism, white racial paranoia, and authoritarianism.
The herd quality of parties explains why the most pessimistic observers of the Republican Party during the Obama era have been right — indeed, Trump’s rise has proven many of us to have been insufficiently pessimistic about the party — and the optimists wrong. The optimists have believed that the GOP could elide, or move beyond, its most fanatical and retrograde elements with some kind of killer app: just the right kind of presidential candidate, or Speaker of the House, or domestic-policy innovation, could reposition Republicans as a serious, responsible governing force.
But it hasn’t worked because the outliers in the party have a way of pulling the herd in their direction.
Why Republican Kooks Matter