The Inevitable Mr. Trump

Image: Donald Trump. Flickr/Gage Skidmore.

A rightly disgusted electorate has been turning the rascals out and replacing them with even less impressive rascals.

On these themes, Trump entered the campaign with a bang, and rounded up a large number of working- and lower-middle-class voters who felt threatened by migrants and unrepresented by elites who don’t care about the economically vulnerable section of the workforce, having squandered American economic strength and national credibility. Insightful commentators such as Peggy Noonan and Mark Steyn have seen and described this phenomenon clearly, while the traditional conservative intelligentsia gathered around National Review, the Weekly Standard and Commentary have reacted like an offended dowager to the coarsened discourse. They seem to feel deprived of an entitlement to take the Republicans back to the right of Ronald Reagan. They have inadvertently made common cause with the liberal Democrats—with a conspicuous lack of success—and are in danger of marginalizing themselves.

As Trump has advanced through the primaries and to the edge of the nomination, he has begun to seek support from less angry and more cerebral voters. His tax proposals are sensible, if a little imprecise, and his major foreign-policy statement on April 27 is a cogent outline of a clear definition of the U.S. national interest. It is neither impetuous as George W. Bush nor as defeatist and contra-historical as Obama. Trump is almost unstoppable as the Republican nominee now, and is already shifting fire to Hillary Clinton. In their only direct clash to date, when Senator Clinton called him a sexist, he shut her down easily by remarking that her husband, to whom she owes her prominence, was the greatest sexist in American political history and that she facilitated his behavior. Senator Clinton’s many untruths, even on absurd issues such as being fired on by snipers in Bosnia, and her lack of a serious record of public achievement, as well as the spirit of change and the unpopularity of the Obama administration to which she must affect some fealty, make her very vulnerable.

The election of Donald Trump as president is now a very reasonable possibility. Among its effects would be a salutary house-cleaning of the federal government, a process of renewal that would doubtless have lapses of taste and judgment, but that would revitalize American public life. The Bush dynasty was an accident of continuity following the very successful Reagan presidency, and it came to have a stifling influence on the Republican Party. The premature defeat of George H. W. Bush by Bill Clinton led to the even more precarious myth of the Bush-Clinton co-dynasty, as there was no excuse for Clinton winning the 1992 election. Barack Obama interrupted the Bush-Clinton alternation by seizing the moment for an admirable and nationally heartfelt gesture of tolerance and broad-mindedness, but he has been a disastrous president.

In the United States, political renewal occurs when it must, and in a peculiar, always surprising and ineluctable way, the office does seek the man (or woman). When Donald Trump leaves Cleveland in July, he will probably be the nominee, and if he continues to recalibrate his campaign to a broader base, the office will seek him. Many of the minorities to whom the Clintons (and even Obama) have given almost nothing but the relentless utterance of clichés and bromides will embrace his appeal—more than the polls now register. As a massively recognized but politically new face, who has focused the election on the real and previously unexplored issues, facing a shop-worn candidate very widely seen as corrupt and unproven despite her longevity in the corridors and anterooms of misgovernment, Donald Trump should be very formidable.

Conrad Black is a writer and former newspaper publisher whose most recent book is Flight of the Eagle: The Grand Strategies That Brought America from Colonial Dependence to World Leadership (Encounter Books, 2013). He is chairman emeritus of the National Interest.

Image: Donald Trump. Flickr/Gage Skidmore.