“If Trump himself does not survive the Republican primary, Trumpism might,” writes the Washington Post’s David Weigel from the RedState Gathering in Atlanta, an event from which Donald Trump was disinvited because of his crude insults toward Fox News’s Megyn Kelly. Weigel didn’t find many Trump supporters at the event, but he found admirers of The Donald’s lack of tact. “Republicans only lost when they went easy on Democrats,” Weigel describes their thinking. He quotes an attendee named Doug Booth: “John McCain had the chance to take it to Obama…. The same thing happened with Romney. He fought tooth and nail to get the nomination, then he backed off.” Booth’s wife seems to feel that Jeb Bush continues the tradition of unfortunate restraint, “always apologizing” for things like implying that the government spends too much on women’s health.
Trump is benefiting from a reputation as a “Green Lantern,” to use political scientist Brendan Nyhan’s term for a mythical president who can do anything “if only he tries hard enough or uses the right tactics.” (Up to now, Green Lanternism has been most prominent among Democrats who can’t understand why Barack Obama refuses to usleash Luther the Anger Translator on Republicans.) Last week Vox’s Ezra Klein explained why Trump is the ultimate Green Lantern candidate: “Candidates always promise that by virtue of their force of character, they will be able to do what their predecessors couldn’t, while making fewer compromises than their predecessors made. It’s what the people want to hear. But Trump goes further. There is no border or boundary to his self-confidence. He doesn’t just tell you he won’t back down. He stands up and shows he won’t back down. He is a mathematical proof for himself.”
Still running first in the Republican primary polls, Trump promotes the illusion that he can insult women, and they’ll still vote for him out of admiration for his chutzpah—and that Mexico would react to a wall and militarized zone along its border by saluting a American president who tells the rest of the world to go to hell. Part of his image comes from his longtime role as host of The Apprentice, where aspiring entrepreneurs must stay on his good side. It doesn’t hurt when he gets away with enraging the population of Chicago by tagging their riverfront skyline with a glowing, 20-foot-high TRUMP sign that makes the Bat-Signal look subtle. That’s the kind of thing that thrills Republican homeowners in New Hampshire who would complain to the local zoning board if a neighbor tried to add an in-law apartment to his house.
The problem with Green Lanternism is that everyone wants the president’s awesome powers to be used against other people, not themselves. Teachers’ unions, for example, would not be happy if Obama flexed his power to get more charter schools built. As for Trump, I’m still convinced that he’s going to get in trouble by somehow offending the “get your government hands off my Social Security” crowd. Maybe he’ll talk about streamlining the Postal Service by closing rural branches, or he’ll promise that the Army will stop paying so much for baby cribs, not realizing that the cribs are made in New Hampshire. Voters suddenly lose their taste for tough talk when it’s directed at them.