I think you may have misconstrued Donald Trump’s political project. Donald Trump is a performative reductio ad absurdum of the GOP’ as a political project. And, as it turns out, the argument is devastatingly powerful.
Trump has beaten liberal America at the game that, for at least two decades, it wanted most to win. He has more or less eroded the republican party and its multiple machines to the point of collapse. And should his candidacy be successful, the golden age of imbecility–etymologically understood–as party line and state policy will have been effectively brought to an end.
The first great victory of Trump’s candidacy has been stunning and incomprehensibly ignored by commentators. By hijacking the populist agenda, Trump has effectively disembowelled the Tea Party. One could read Trump’s campaign promise–and thus his putative agenda–as a catalogue of the most demented claims and promises in a political field that has seen a rather hearty stew of folly, stupidity, imprudence, silliness and madness.
For all extents and purposes, Trump has trumped the psychotic approach to politics of the Atwater GOP by beating the entire party file and rank to the punch. When the GOP talks about strategies for dealing with terrorism, Trump promises troops on the ground in Iraq to take back the oil fields from ISIS. When the GOP tiptoes around the Pope’s criticism of unbridled market policies, Trump promises to threaten Francis. The GOP opposes the Iran deal, Donald Trump claims it will lead to a nuclear holocaust. He accuses the Chinese of sucking the blood out of the United States. A misguided commentator in some international news channel pointed out after the debate that Trump runs the risk of “saying something unbecoming”. He clearly did not understand that “saying something unbecoming” is the very core of his political strategy.
But nothing, at least to date, matches Trump’s masterful use of the favourite bogey man of the populist American right: the foreigner. When the party talks about strategies to deal with illegal immigration, Trump calls Mexicans rapists and criminals, promises to deport every single illegal immigrant the first day of his presidency. and to force Mexico to pay for a wall–“Not a toy wall like we have now.”–to keep out anyone who wants to get in illegally. And now, he promises to revise the 14th amendment which guarantees citizenship to anyone born in the territory of the US: Trump explain that he wants to foreclose the deployment of “anchor babies”.
And as it turns out the republican field of primary candidates is forced to follow him wherever he may go. The first debate showed that not only Trump cuts a commanding figure in the field which made the other candidates seem like Lilliputian warriors, but also that he is the only one with a recognizable political brand. His performance made even wild eyed reactionary conservatives such as Ted Cruz and Scott Walker seem almost completely decaffeinated. Trump turned out to be a nightmare for the establishment candidates but also for other fringe politicians. Trump could quite simply disintegrate the campaign of any still-viable Tea Party candidate if he hasn’t already. The crazies may be done for now that the craziest has taken the spotlight. In the competition for quasi-fictional political prominence, the field must now contend with a master of unscripted television dramaturgy.
This rigorous strategy of political occupation has helped him fold-in some of the most exotic figures of the republican fauna. He has earned the endorsement of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, Ted Nugent, and Ann Coulter . But perhaps one of the most exciting facts of the early days of the campaign came in the aftermath of the first debate. Some of the most acrimonious and consequential exchanges in Cleveland were not with other candidates but, rather, with the troupe of Fox News leading actors.
Trump and his campaign came out of the exchanged enormously reinvigorated but the same cannot be said for Fox News. The main object of Trump scorn was Megyn Kelly. A mouthpiece for a whole host of unpalatable republican talking points Kelly met her match in Cleveland. For a while Kelly went on what seemed like a forced ten-day vacation–though the station denied it–and the entire organization found itself suddenly put on the defensive. The war rages on and Trump has singled out the capo di tutti capi at the station, Roger Ailes himself. As it was pointed out by David Folkenflik, in NPR, Trump may prove to be a bridge too far even for a figure who has reigned supreme over the conservative field and its media machine. By taking his message to other networks who were more than happy to host him, Trump has shown–as Folkenflik rightly points out–that Trump may be simply bigger than Fox. Even if in the end Fox remains a force on the right, the damage done by Trump may be irreparable.
The republican media problem echoes the party line politics. What Trump did after his feud with Fox is what he promised in Cleveland that he would do if he looses the primaries, that is, move to another channel and run as an independent. If he goes, he could be taking with him much more than part of the electorate. He could be take the very lifeline of the GOP.
And then lastly there is the incredibly auspicious presence of the New York tycoon for the Democratic field, especially for Bernie Sanders. Trump is essentially unelectable and this means that if he does take the primaries you could put almost anyone in the democratic ticket–save the ghost of Tiny Tim–and still take the White House. As opposed to what has been written, this is not good news for the Hillary campaign. Much of the argument against the Bernie Sanders campaign remains that while very palatable for the liberal sentimentality, he would be incapable of winning the generals. Trump effectively changes that. If Trump becomes the candidate of the GOP, the democratic party would find no need to find a middle of the road candidate like Hillary. The democratic base support of Hillary reminds one of Collin Powell’s support for the Iraq war. A Trump candidacy would make Hilary superfluous. In fact, Trump would effectively make Bernie Sanders unbeatable and would turn the GOP into a fossilized mammoth.