What We're Thinking

March 30, 2016

Jeffrey H. Birnbaum

BGR Public Relations

Is Donald Trump the End of the World?

Published originally in The Washington Times

Here’s a pop quiz: What happens if Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination for president?
A) The world comes to an end.
B) The Republican Party falls apart.
C) The Democratic nominee automatically wins the election.
D) None of the above.
E) For those who chose Choice D, you may be in the minority, but you are correct.

Mr. Trump stirs deep emotions. People who like him love him. People who hate him loathe him. But that doesn’t mean that he’s an alien sent to our planet to change everything we’ve ever known about politics.

If he’s the GOP candidate for president, he will be dealt with like any candidate for president. Some down-ticket Republicans will run away from him. Some won’t mention him. Others will embrace him because he will help them get elected.

Politicians will do what’s in their best interests. Mr. Trump would be a different presidential contender only by degree. Republicans will run away from him — or toward him — at a faster pace than in previous years. But the standard-bearer of a party is always a mixed bag. Mr. Trump is just more mixed than usual.

This is not to say that the Republican Party isn’t in distress. It is. So is the Democratic Party. Both parties are facing an upheaval this year. Voters are lashing out at their longtime leaders because they have been promised so much for so many years and gotten almost nothing tangible in return.

For an entire generation, presidents and the Congresses they’ve worked with (or against) have talked a good game. But they haven’t delivered where it counts — in voters’ wallets.

That’s one reason Choice C above isn’t true. Hillary Clinton isn’t a shoo-in for the White House if she faces Mr. Trump. She has been given a serious run for the Democratic nomination by an until now little-known 74-year-old socialist from the tiny state of Vermont. If that isn’t proof that she’s a lousy candidate, then nothing is.

Yes, she can lose and Mr. Trump can win.

Nor is Choice B likely to happen. The Republican Party can survive even a blowhard like Donald Trump. In fact, oddly, the GOP could be broadened by the many recent nonvoters Mr. Trump is luring into election booths. For good or ill, he has sent out a clarion call, and the masses have responded. Haven’t political experts said for years that turnout is the most important factor in who wins elections? Well, say what you want — Mr. Trump turns out voters.

Also, Republican tumult isn’t new. The Republican Party has been going through paroxysms of dissent for years. House Speaker John Boehner resigned in the face of a growing revolt within the GOP ranks. The Tea Party has been threatening higher-ups for several election cycles. It hasn’t been your father’s Republican Party for years now. Mr. Trump is just the eruption of this long-smoldering political volcano.

The Republican Party will survive in altered form. In fact, it was changed before Mr. Trump joined the race for president.

As for whether the world will come to an end — Choice A — the assertion is obviously hyperbolic. The globe survived two world wars; it can live beyond a Trump candidacy.

But many people worry that Mr. Trump is a dictator-in-waiting. The issue to them isn’t whether the world will survive, but whether American freedom and democracy would be bowled over by an overly assertive and insensitive President Trump.

To that, there is no answer. Certainly the billionaire’s many enemies are effectively vilifying him as a dangerous hate monger. But is he really?

We need to ask the growing number of established politicos who are backing Mr. Trump. The real question is: Will Mr. Trump put workable policies behind his strident rhetoric? To that, the answer is maybe.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, is said to be convening foreign policy experts to advise the Republican front-runner. No doubt Gov. Chris Christie, New Jersey Republican, will have an impact on Mr. Trump’s domestic policies. Will these new efforts produce more craziness or something closer to programs that can be undertaken by the largest and most complex organization on earth, the U.S. government?

Mr. Trump has shown a remarkable ability to duck and weave with the punches, a trait great politicians share. Will he continue to do so in ways that makes him acceptable to a larger number of voters? That will answer a lot of questions.


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