Let's imagine a Republican presidential candidate in 2020 who takes all of the same policy positions as Donald Trump.
Like Trump, this candidate is fiercely hawkish on immigration. He or she is protectionist on trade — bucking the conservative consensus about the awesomeness of free markets — and also talks extensively about why the Iraq War was a complete disaster.
Let's also imagine that while our hypothetical politician shares all of Trump's policies, he or she shares none of Trump's temperament — none of the sexist attacks on women, none of the gross insults of rivals, none of the cult of personality that has marked this campaign.
Would this candidate still have captured the Republican nomination? In other words: Has Trump's march to the nomination depended on his loose cannon lunacy, or come in spite of it?
On the latest episode of The Weeds, Vox's Sarah Kliff, Ezra Klein, and Matt Yglesias try to puzzle out just what allowed Trump to capture the GOP nomination. (You can listen to the episode at the link below by subscribing to The Weeds on iTunes.)
Here's Klein, for instance, considering whether our hypothetical future Republican could replicate Trump's electoral success … and coming to a definitive "no":
What Trump was able to do, and what Trump figured out, was that he could turn his personal savvy and understanding of how the media works into a way to run for public office. So that every time people began taking attention from him, he would say something yet more outrageous and get the media glare back onto his campaign.
And that worked because he had the personal celebrity and the personal constitution to do it, and he understood this loophole that even if people can grok conceptually, do not have the qualities to take advantage of. Trump really believes it doesn't matter if your coverage is positive or negative; it only matters if it's more than the other candidates.
So I think if you imagined a version of Trump that did not have those qualities — that was not outrageous; that did not want to offend people; that wanted to play nice with the party establishment — but had Trump's policy positions, that Trump would get shut down. What you'd have there is a worst of both worlds candidate, where the candidate is heterodox in ways that rob her of establishment support, but she is establishment-oriented in ways that make her uninteresting to the media, and so there's no space for her.
I think it's really Trump's personal qualities that have allowed him to have an alternative kind of campaign structure that is based on his ability to command media attention.
- "Donald Trump is really the Republican nominee. This is really happening."
- This American Life's episode about a South Carolina talk radio host struggling to realize he and his community of listeners sharply diverge over Donald Trump.
- Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann: "Let's just say it: The Republicans are the problem."
- A story in the Atlantic about how conservative radio enabled Trump's rise.
- The controversy over former Missouri Congress member Todd Akin's remarks on "legitimate rape."
- A column from the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat on "Trumpism After Trump."
- Vox's Amanda Taub on the rise of American authoritarianism and its connection to Donald Trump.
- How Democrats and Republicans have grown apart on racial controversies in the polarized era.