The Donald and The Paul
I don’t want to like Donald Trump. He has no clear or specific policy positions, his personal life is a sideshow, he seems to be emblematic of all that is wrong with popular American culture. We all know that he’s supported – or rather, simply ran off at the mouth about – various positions that are repugnant to the GOP base and leadership. And yet there’s something about his presidential bid so far that I find intoxicating. I wouldn’t call myself a Trump supporter. And yet…
When I think of Trump, I actually think of Machiavelli. All of the GOP pundits, analysts and thinkers cannot see it, but Trump’s style, rhetorically crude as it may be, is actually what the father of political realism prescribed.
For my part I consider that it is better to be adventurous than cautious, because fortune is a woman, and if you wish to keep her under it is necessary to beat and ill-use her; and it is seen that she allows herself to be mastered by the adventurous rather than by those who go to work more coldly. — The Prince, Ch. 24
I can hear the feminists screeching now, but put the imagery aside and use a different analogy if you like. The point is that the GOP lost two previous national elections doing more or less the opposite of what Trump is doing: playing it safe, playing it nice, playing it cool. One might even say, playing it beta.
The primary reason it doesn’t work is that it leaves everyone hating you. This is why Machiavelli identified half-measures and indecision, possibly more often than any other vice, as one of the worst things a person in pursuit of power could possibly do. As much as it pains me to admit it, Rand Paul has more or less traveled this middling course, and it hasn’t been helping him. He has plunged to an average of 6% in the polls throughout the month of July, by my reading, while Trump has soared to parity with Jeb Bush at around 15%.
If you try to play it nice and safe, the left-wing media will still call you a right-wing extremist. I guarantee you that each and every bespectacled and bearded leftist at Salon and MSNBC believes that Jeb Bush is a right-wing radical extremist, a racist, a sexist, an imperialist, a homophobe, a fascist, etc., as does anyone who is a part of the social justice social networking online empire which drives so much of the narrative today. I would be surprised if there were a single Republican candidate they wouldn’t smear in that fashion. CNN and the other major news outlets who are center-left won’t be doing him any favors either.The point is, they can’t be pleased. No Republican has ever pleased them, because they hate conservatism and everything it stands for, whether you serve it in a box or with a fox or in a house or with a mouse.
And yet every attempt to appease the left, or the centrists who are afraid of their own shadows, causes one to be reviled by the base. It is seen as a cowardly act of selling out, and often rightfully so.
There are also candidates who want to appease the GOP party bureaucracy by appearing “electable.” But that party bureaucracy decided on its candidate a long time ago, and we all know it. There’s no way anyone who isn’t Jeb Bush is going to get the support of that machine. Cultivating an air of respectability or electability is pointless. Rand Paul is in fact the most electable candidate out of the entire lot, consistently – for months now – topping all other GOP candidates in head-to-head polls with Hillary. Does he get any party support? No. Bush is their man. And yet still Paul, by and large, plays by the rules established by both the left-wing media and the GOP party bureaucracy. All of them do, to varying degrees and extents. The only way they could ever get the party support that is pledged to Bush by default would be to destroy him in the polls, consistently; but because they want that support, they don’t do anything that might actually get them there. This is because in order to get there, you quite obviously have to defy the rules preferred by the two party system and the media.
Trump, on the other hand, is like a madman with a match, standing in a puddle of gasoline. He will burn the whole thing down. And maybe it is time. Ron Paul recently expressed fears that Trump was too authoritatian. And yet clearly the Obama years have left not only Republicans, but I believe many independents and probably conservative Democrats as well, starved for leadership. All it is going to take is for people outside the GOP base to make the connection that many of our problems do indeed stem from indecisive authority and gridlock, and it will ignite the electorate all around Trump.
I watch, for now, as an outsider with fascination and wonder. After the Obama years, and the Bush years, and the Clinton years, and the Bush Sr. years (those are all the years I remember), how much worse a job could Trump possibly do? I honestly don’t think he would start a world war. He wants America to be wealthy, not righteous – which is fine with me, when the particular vision of geopolitical righteousness both the Democrats and the Republican neocons have held for the last 25 years or so has been pretty toxic and putrid. He speaks of his ability to “negotiate” and “make deals”, and I can’t believe he’d do any worse than what we’ve had. A recent article in The American Conservative made the persuasive case that American self-righteousness has prevented her from having any sort of meaningful diplomacy for decades. A guy who just wants to make money could be the antidote to that. Meanwhile I doubt he would seriously work to undermine my right to practice my faith and righteousness. Finally, he is independently wealthy. He doesn’t need to kneel before Goldman-Sachs and obey its dictates.
The US presidency was never about salvation for libertarians. All we can do is keep the Hillarys and the Bernies out. If you want a libertarian society, you need a culture of liberty, not a libertarian president.
Rand Paul would do a better job overall in my view, and yet his road to the nomination is going to be rough. Then again, Trump may find it impossible to win the general election, if he even stays in the primaries, if he even makes it to the first presidential debate. I’m skeptical that he’ll even make it that far.
But if he does, well, we’ll see.