Ross Douthat goes for a swim.
The aide [Karl Rove] said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
There's a problem with creating your own reality. To sustain that fiction you must immerse yourself in your fantasy world until you risk being unable to leave it for a less satisfying reality. In your head, for example, you can tell yourself that you are part of a governing class, born and bred to excellence the way God and nature intended, one of the superior men who do the difficult but necessary job of thinking and telling everyone else what to do.
Your ideology is designed around this desire and is enclosed by it. Anything outside the bubble that will pierce it is ignored, denied, or elaborately rationalized. Anything inside the bubble is strictly monitored for potential to ruin the bubble as well.
Your reality is now your prison, and Ross Douthat's alternate reality is the size of Alcatraz.
Donald Trump isn’t the Republican nominee — yet. The people of Indiana still get a say in the matter. The people of California will still have a chance to restore a semblance of order to the universe. Carly Fiorina will get a chance to prove that it takes a female running mate to stop a male chauvinist pig.Douthat pretends Cruz might win and his choice of a running mate is clever tactics, not useless showmanship. Fiorina will stop nobody; Trump will insult her, scoff at her, and mock her failure at business. Believe me, there's a lot you can do with someone who pretends to be adept at economics and business but has a track record of failure. Cruz is a House of Horrors so unpopular that he has fewer supporters than Dennis Hastert.
Douthat is less than convincing when standing up to the male chauvinist pigs of the world. (A term I haven't heard in a very long time. Does Douthat even know it's 2016 and not 1976? Is he just parroting what his parents told him when he was a kid?) The only difference between Trump's view of women and Douthat's view of women is that Trump appears to like having sex with them while Mr. "Chunky Reese Witherspoon" Douthat does not. Otherwise they both see women as not-people, whose lives are subject to their whims and prejudices.
But if Trump falls short, it’s going to be a matter of inches, of a handful of delegates denying him the prize. It won’t just be too close for comfort; it will be too close for those of us who predicted that he couldn’t get there to claim vindication. Our pretense to real sagacity has crumbled; only luck and randomness can save “it won’t be Trump” punditry now.
When none of his predictions come true, Douthat will forget he ever said them. Trump needs 250 delegates to reach 1237. Cruz needs 675. There are 583 delegates remaining. Fiorina will fade away. Again. The liberal-ish woman will have to stop the male chauvinist pig, as usual.
We know why Douthat didn't present the numbers: He wanted to pretend the count is neck-to-neck, and so he could say that he was right about Trump when he was wrong about Trump. Maintaining private realities is expensive. Pundits' first priority, always, is to keep the welfare flowing, so first Douthat says he was right and then he says they all were not wise about Trump.
So it’s time to start reckoning with what we got wrong. The best place to start isn’t with the Republican Party’s leaders — the opportunists, the cowards, the sleepwalkers — but with its voters, and the once-reasonable assumptions about voter psychology that Trump seems to have disproved.THOSE people are opportunists, cowards, and sleepwalkers, not Douthat, who is right even when he is wrong. As driftglass has pointed out about David Brooks so many times, the pundits must maintain an elaborate charade in which they are not lackeys of the Republican Party's leaders. Douthat must pretend that he and his brethren did not stoke the voters' anger and give them a constant parade of scapegoats while impoverishing them, or push policies that ended up harming their followers and the country.
There are also certain factors that Douthat must omit altogether to maintain the fantasy. Douthat can't discuss Citizens United because the elite wanted nearly unlimited money in politics. For the same reason Douthat can't talk about the suffering (and insufferable) conservative voters who turned to Trump when they realized that their party had no intention of living up to its promises to improve their deteriorating economic situation.
One such assumption, that voters follow the signals sent by party elites and officeholders, is the basis of the famous “party decides” thesis in political science, which was invoked early and often to explain why Trump couldn’t possibly end up as the Republican nominee.Republican voters were obedient to authority in the past but are not now. Douthat does not explain why because he cannot let himself see the causes. The Republican elite deliberately destroyed their followers' unquestioning loyalty by impoverishing them, the party split between two different forces, confusing their followers, and the elite demanded that the followers stop trusting elites. Douthat can't admit that his leaders are grifters and his fellow followers are bigots so he can't let himself see any sign of the grift or the bigotry.
While his progress has undercut that thesis, it hasn’t been fully disproved, since the “party decides” conceit doesn’t tell us about what happens when the party simply can’t decide.The Republican party has been throwing up a clown car's worth of nominees for a long time. The party decided and its choices were rejected one by one. This one's too soft. This one's too hard. This one's too soft in the head. On and on, until you end up with a Romney or Trump because everyone else was a failure and time is running out.
Whether you look at endorsements or fund-raising or any other metric, that’s what happened this time: Once Jeb Bush turned out to be a bust, the party elite never managed to coalesce around an alternative (as of right now, only four United States senators have explicitly endorsed Ted Cruz), leaving their voters as sheep without a shepherd, free to roam into strange pastures if they so desired.
Voters are sheep. You heard it here first! But something else is missing here. What happened to the elite's choice, Marco Rubio? Oh yes, he flamed out as well. The sheep baaa'd and found him wanting.
Douthat goes on to tell us that primary voters are relatively knowledgeable, interested voters and therefore won't vote for people outside their party or nominees who can't win.
(yip yip yip)
Until Donald Trump blew this model up. Yes, Trump has adopted conservative positions on various issues, but he’s done so in a transparently cynical fashion, constantly signaling that he doesn’t really believe in or understand the stance that he’s taking, constantly suggesting a willingness to bargain any principle away. Except for immigration hawks, practically every ideological faction in the party regards Trump with mistrust, disgust, suspicion, fear. Pro-lifers, foreign-policy hawks, the Club for Growth, libertarians — nobody thinks Trump is really on their side. And yet he’s winning anyway.Douthat is treating all this as some kind of academic exercise. Under what conditions did Trumpism flourish? Use examples.
Or at least he’s winning a plurality. So perhaps Trumpism can be understood as a coup by the G.O.P.’s ideologically flexible minority against the conservative movement’s litmus tests; indeed to some extent that’s clearly what’s been happening.
But you would have expected such a coup to be carried out in the name of electability, and Trump doesn’t clear that threshold either. Instead his general-election numbers and favorability ratings are so flagrantly terrible that he’d probably put a raft of red states in play. In other word, he’s untrustworthy and unelectable — a combination that you’d normally expect engaged partisans to consider and reject. And yet he’s winning anyway.Douthat pretends the voters are not indulging in spiteful revenge on their leaders and are not racist, sexist, anti-Semitic or fascist.
But here the model isn’t completely broken, because a majority of Republican voters don’t actually believe that Trump faces long odds, don’t agree that he’s less electable than Cruz or Kasich (or Rubio or whomever further back). Instead, since last fall Republican voters have consistently told pollsters that they think Trump is the candidate most likely to win in November. So the party’s voters are choosing electability — as they see it — over ideology; they’re just in the grip of a strong delusion about Trump’s actual chances against Hillary Clinton.Douthat is still pretending this election is about anything but the followers throwing out the bums that have disappointed them and voting for the noisy man who tells them what they want to hear, the way they want to hear it.
The reason for this delusion might be the key unresolved question of Trump’s strange ascent. Is it the fruit of Trump’s unparalleled media domination — does he seem more electable than all his rivals because he’s always on TV? Is it a case of his victor’s image carrying all before it — if you win enough primary contests, even with 35 percent of the vote, people assume that your winning streak can be extended into November? Is this just how a personality cult rooted in identity politics works — people believe in the Great Leader’s capacity to crush their tribe’s enemies and disregard all contrary evidence?Douthat must pretend that Trump's rise is inexplicable and that personality cults are unfamiliar to Bush voters, or attributions of greatness in their leaders, or the desire for their leaders to crush their enemies.
Or is it somehow the pundits’ doing? Did the misplaced certainty that Trump couldn’t win the nomination create an impression that all projections are bunk, that he’ll always prove his doubters wrong?
Whatever the explanation, we’re very close to Republican voters giving him the chance to do just that.Yes, "whatever the reason," the Republicans are probably going to nominate Trump, and Ross Douthat will never, ever admit his role in Trump's rise. So many lies, so much pretense, such an elaborate framework of deceit, and all to keep alive Douthat's power and wealth fantasy.