Look, I think we've all tried avoidance... humor, anything. It wasn't until I said it again, out loud, yesterday, that I realized how surreal it is to even say: Donald Trump is a candidate for President of the United States. What is that? How does that even happen? Why are we even taking this seriously?
Ok, let's talk about Donald Trump.
Did I think Donald Trump would get this far? No; but to be fair - to myself, at least - I think we need a definition of "this far" that makes sense. I didn't think his run was entirely serious, so no, I thought he'd get bored or annoyed and walk out earlier. I didn't think he'd win the majority of Republican voters... and he hasn't. I didn't think he'd make any sort of potential winning candidate, never mind a successful winner in this fall's race... and so far, he's neither. So did I think he could win the GOP nomination? Well, sure, if he stuck it out. I just thought the GOP had more sense then to let it go that far. And maybe, they still do.
Let's remember that Trump is winning because the field of candidates on the right is awful. There were 17 awful people running (George Pataki! Dear God!), and even the relatively interesting ones - Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, arguably Rick Perry - came loaded with baggage that would have been a hard sell in the best scenario. And Republicans voters do seem to have a fascinating death wish - eviscerating, one after another, any hope of a coherent, thoughtful opponent to either Democrat this fall. And so, now you have one relatively sane alternative - John Kasich - who stands virtually no chance of winning anywhere that's left, and Ted Cruz vs. Donald Trump, a choice of frying pan or fire I'm glad I'll never have to make. So bad, it makes reviving Mitt Romney look good!
Mostly, though, this debacle has happened because Trump has found, and kept, a core of support that no other Republican can touch - the white working class voter, mostly male, whose anger and rejection of status quo has reached critical mass. At best, the GOP has been, since the nineties, a fragile coexistence of the very rich, the "values voter" of the religious right and those working class whites, attracted by a mix of let's be frank, coded messages about blaming others for their problems and a tough guy attitude about guns, war, and fighting the good fights. It was always a bad fit - the policies favored the rich, the religious right got taken for a ride as their issues lost one by one, and the working class got hammered both by bad policy and by economic forces set in motion by those wealthy folks, many Republican, out for themselves and their own personal gain.
Lots of people find it hard to believe that someone with such a conspicuous wealthy lifestyle as Trump could be the salesman for what working men (and some women, but mostly men) want, but I think people miss that the lifestyle he celebrates - ostentatious and somewhat tasteless - is both what ordinary people think rich looks like and favors the aspirational. You may never get into the right schools, the right clubs, marry into the family of taste and class... but you could make some good money, buy a lot of nice things, and say the hell with the snobs. And Trump, really, has been all that, and more.
It's bullshit, but that's what Trump sells: bullshit. Real estate, except for maybe cars, is the home of the most pure sell: the selling of a dream, of hopes... and it favors a salesman who can, basically, lie like a good rug. Say whatever you have to say, but close the deal. Trump is a closer. And he's done it so long, it's beyond instinctive now: it's his air, what sustains him, what keeps it all afloat. Just keep slinging the bullshit. Somehow, it will all work out.
It would be nice to say that Trump's bullshit is finally coming back to haunt him, but I think that's wishful: the media loves a show, he knows it, and he has not stopped delivering since he jumped in to the race. No one organization, it seems, can keep up with the pace of his lies, his misstatements, his exaggerations, his obfuscations and reversals. They just keep coming. And nothing it seems, can thwart the feeling among a core of working class voters that, even with lies, even with policy proposals that can't possibly happen, he's still just what the country needs and the right man for the job.
This disconnect - the "I don't believe it, really, but I like his tough talk" - is part of his brand, too, really. He's the guy who has to sell the property when it isn't finished, the guy who has you walk the model apartment and sells you the idea. It's all caveats and hypotheticals, and you know it won't look like the brochure. But either you trust his sales job, or you don't. Many of us don't. But it's why those who do trust his pitch can say, "no he won't really build a wall. He'll just take on immigration. It's part of why Trump and Sanders are at least tangentially linked - Sanders too is offering a sales job of traditional revolutionary leftism, and he too, has fans who admit that his proposals may not be workable... but he's staked a position and you know what he really believes. Perhaps. I'd say it's more a question of one's tolerance for the bullshit. If you've never trusted the sales rep, well, I suspect you're one of the people turning down what either man is trying to sell.
And sometimes, really, what we can miss is that within Trump's bullshit are hard truths that some hate to admit and politics is meant to avoid. The job of selling is layering the bullshit on top of some, maybe only a few, real facts, facts that help your sell, but still facts. Trump has reversed pretty much every Republican by admitting carried interest is ridiculously unfair and should be ended. Lurking within his xenophobia on trade and immigration are acknowledgements both that offshore manufacturing is a hard reality and low wage immigrants make the economy go. He's critical of George W. Bush and his handling of Iraq and Afghanistan (even while sounding wildly xenophobic and anti-Muslim). And yes, he stepped across a generally accepted line by stating the obvious: if abortion is a crime, a woman who gets one is a criminal.
It was bullshit, his conversation with Matthews, just two guys who talk fast and tough, bullshitting each other, that lulled Trump into admitting the logical fallacy anti abortion forces like to sell - criminalize abortion, and arrest doctors, not women. It's not their fault, or it is their fault, but they're just dumb, or crazy, or who knows. Trump couldn't help himself - I suspect he just wanted to show Matthews that he was smart, too, that he wasn't some loudmouth with no smarts to back it up. And he went for it.
Now. of course, Trump is selling more bullshit - he never said it, the question was confusing, he was misunderstood out of context, yada, yada, yada. In his wake, Trump has left people gasping at every new outrage, every beyond the pale moment. That, too, just adds to the show. Made you look! And you knew it was bullshit, but you still looked, you're still taking it seriously... and he's still humming along. People ask, does Trump even believe the bullshit - as if, somehow, his own rejection of it would tell you something. It's a search for something irrelevant - off of the sales floor, virtually any salesperson I've met is a tremendous cynic. It's hard to respect the people who fall for your lines. I keep telling people who wonder if Trump is "for real" that you're looking the wrong way - what we need to ask, and figure out is... why are the people supporting him buying what he's selling. And can you sell them something else?
Trump is the triumph of America's real skill - salesmanship. It's what we do, it's how our economy works, selling is who we are, right down to the American Dream. We're good at it - we lie to ourselves and we lie to the world and occasionally we have to admit we've lied, but usually just to sell something else, something more. We invented modern advertising, we perfected the hard sell. It's impossible to blame Trump for turning back on us the tools we use everyday to make this country run. He's selling, and no, not everyone is buying. But some people are, and the GOP has the hard choice of rejecting the sales pitch and turning off the fans and buyers, or seeing this sales pitch through to what will be, almost without a doubt, a complete debacle. Stopping this train, now, would require skills at outdoing Trump that so far, no one seems to have - maybe if we called the cast of Million Dollar Listing. But even they would tell us, you need something to offer as an alternative sell. And what Trump knows, deep down, is that the forces opposing him in the GOP are armed, mainly... with bullshit.