True, the economy is going great guns. It's continuing on the trajectory Barack Obama set it on when on his watch we emerged from the depths of the Great Recession. The numbers just don't lie. This is the Obama Economy, and Donald Trump has had very little if anything to do with it.
But the chief characteristic of Trump supporters seems to be that they are delusional. They keep bragging about totally imaginary accomplishments while ignoring the embarrassing and telling fact that despite occasional flukes in right-leaning polls done by Rasmussen and Fox News and such, not once since he lost the popular vote on Election Day of 2016 has Mr. Trump managed to emerge from underwater in the consensus of his popularity ratings.
There is an axiom in politics that when an incumbent is under 50% in the polls, he's in trouble. Only on rare occasions has Mr. Trump's approval rating reached that number in the majority of the polls, and it has never exceeded it.
The fact is that his election was a fluke, a perfect storm brought about by the Democrats' nomination of an abrasive candidate seen as divisive and obnoxious by too large a percentage of the electorate to be viable and a personality which managed to energize and bring to the polls large numbers of marginal and alienated people who were not polled because they hadn't voted before, or at least voted recently enough to have been included in the polling samples. Even so, Hillary Clinton managed to win a majority of the popular vote. Trump supporters fantasize that this was because illegal immigrants voted in numbers which no evidence suggests could even be feasible, or that some sort of shenanigans must have happened; similarly, delusional opponents of the president think that somehow the Russian manipulation of the election which the president alternately acknowledges and denies put him over the top. Enough states were close enough that perhaps the latter might have had some effect. But the real culprit was a Republican field divided among so many well-qualified but less than galvanizing candidates that an obnoxious narcissistic boor with no discernable qualifications but a set of eccentric and ill-informed opinions which happened to coincide with the fantasies of enough alienated voters that they imagined that they had found a voice in him, rather than a con-man willing and able to take advantage of their gullibility and lack of information.
The result was a Trump plurality of the primary and caucus voters somewhere between a quarter and a third of the Republican electorate. The overwhelming majority of Republicans opposed Trump until his momentum had made him unstoppable. But once it had, their instinctive, deep-seated and not at all unreasonable dislike and fear of Hillary Clinton, who had loomed like a bogeywoman over their future hopes and plans ever since her husband was president, did the rest. Republicans en masse went into denial about Trump, somehow convincing themselves that while he might be a loudmouthed and totally unqualified buffoon totally lacking in any possible qualifications for the presidency it was enough that at least he wasn't Hillary.
That conviction proved unshakable. Add to it the unpolled and disaffected non-voting fringe and the alienated working-class Democrats who shared the delusion that in Donald Trump they had found someone who at last had their interests at heart and cared about what they thought, and the result was pretty much exactly the number of votes in exactly the right places to give Mr. Trump the Electoral College despite receiving a minority of the votes.
And now, it's too late. My Republican party- and that of Ike, and Jerry Ford, and Ronald Reagan, and the Bushes- is dead. The Republicans have hunkered down. The Republican party I belonged to when I worked for George W. Bush and Mitt Romney and served on the GOP County Central Committee and went to the Republican State Convention as a delegate was already in upheaval back then; the Tea Party revolution was in full force. I'm convinced that if Donald Trump hadn't been nominated, Ted Cruz would have been. That would have gone down hard with me, but I could have swallowed it; while Sen. Cruz is far to my right, he is an intelligent and honorable man of sufficient ability that I, too, would have had no trouble in voting for him in preference to Hillary.
There is a persuasive argument to be made that if Jill Stein, the candidate of the Green Party, had not been in the race, Hillary would have won in the Electoral College, too. But she was in the race, and now, the people who voted for Jill Stein are the dominant force in the Democratic party. Even if they have to settle for Joe Biden rather than somebody like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris, their determination to defeat Donald Trump would probably give the Democrats enough votes to win in 2020.
But Donald Trump became the Republican party when he managed to parlay that third or so of the Republican primary and caucus votes into a majority at the Cleveland convention, and we're left now with Donald Trump's party, not that of Ted Cruz. It's a party in which I can't find even an uncomfortable place to stand, and I am not alone. True, people who voted for Evan McMullin because we couldn't stomach Trump any more than we could tolerate Hillary are fewer in number than those who supported Jill Stein or even Libertarian Gary Johnson, although I suspect that McMullin would have done far better if he hadn't gotten such a late start and managed to appear on more state ballots. But by no means was the right completely at peace with Donald Trump even when Hillary was the alternative. A substantial number of us kept our heads rather than being frightened into voting for a walking, talking absurdity like Mr. Trump.
There are more of us now. Predictably, Mr. Trump's silly trade wars and tariffs have hurt blue-collar workers and farmers so badly that it's hard to imagine him even coming close to repeating the coalition of industrial and farm states which enabled him to carry the Electoral College in 2016. My own home state of Iowa is a case in point. The farmers and other rural voters who put us in the Trump column are not going to make the same mistake again. Mr. Trump may well have trouble with Kansas and Nebraska, too, though I'm less sure about them; on the other hand, were I a farmer, I wouldn't bet the farm on Mr. Trump's chances in Michigan, Ohio, or Pennsylvania.
It's not going to happen, people. We can debate whether Mr. Trump is a racist, as the U.S. House voted to label him yesterday, or whether- as I actually think more likely- he's merely a tone-deaf dilettante in love with his own voice and lacking in any filters whatsoever, and thus likely to say just about anything that comes into his head without even considering how it will sound. Either way, he has taken an already divided nation and polarized it completely. That nation will not make the mistake of allowing him a second term.
This would be the time for an effective centrist third-party challenge to the two major parties, which have effectively evacuated the center, to take shape. If John Kasich or someone like him was going to lead such a movement, now would be the time for him or for her to be making the opening moves. But I see no evidence of that. Perhaps it might still happen. If it does, it will be a movement far more formidable than the candidacies of Jill Stein or Gary Johnson or Evan McMullin. There might be some danger that by co-opting the center somehow Donald Trump might benefit from a second fluke and win another improbable term.
I hold open little hope of centrists- real centrists, principled centrists, not relics of a more reasonable age like Joe Biden who are willing to bend the knee to whatever fashionable shibboleth the extremists of his party might decide is suddenly the acid test of acceptability- ever again being able to compete in either of our major parties. I'd probably risk even Donald Trump's re-election to support the birth of a new party to pick up the fallen banner of all our great presidents of the past. But as time goes on, I have a hunch that a third-party bid by Kasich or some other responsible alternative to the extremes will fade, and at best we'll face a choice between another divisive, boorish, juvenile campaign by Donald Trump and a nostalgic trip down memory lane led by Joe Biden as the titular leader of a radicalized Democratic party its forebears would barely recognize.
Yes, I admit that anything could happen, especially if a third party does materialize. Donald Trump could turn out to have the devil's own luck and win a second term through a second fluke. And God help America if that happens.
But I cannot believe that the American people are foolish enough to let it happen.
No, despite all the posturing of the Republicans, there can no longer be a credible case made- if there ever could have been- that Donald Trump is fit to be president or anything other than a disaster in that role. All the make-believe aside, he has nothing to do with the booming economy, even though incumbents do usually profit by good times whether they're responsible for them or not. His "achievements" are imaginary, but the damage he's done to the country is all too real. And despite the delusions of the Republicans and the fears of tremulous Democrats, it would violate the very instinct for survival for any organism to freely allow itself to be preyed upon twice the way the American body politic has been ravaged by the narcissistic predator in the Oval Office since January of 2017.
Donald Trump will not nourish his ego on the carcass of America for a second four years.