If the polls are right — and, while they’ve been wrong before, they’ve never been quite this wrong — the only remaining question in the presidential race is how badly (or, if you will, how bigly) Donald Trump will lose.
It matters on so many levels. I remember when George Will wrote that it was the duty of true conservatives to ensure that Trump, the usurper, would lose to Hillary Clinton in all 50 states. Well, that won’t happen. But he could lose Arizona. He could even lose Utah. Polls say the race is close in demographically-ripe-for-change Georgia. Polls say the race is even close in Texas. In fact, in the Real Clear Politics poll of polls, Texas is now listed as a toss-up state.
But the size of the defeat is not about some liberal revenge dream, in which, say, a humiliated Trump is consigned to wake up each post-election morning to the sound of Elizabeth Warren telling him what nasty thing a bunch of nasty women are going to do to him that day.
It’s not even about Democrats rolling up the score so they can win back the Senate and make inroads on the Republican majority in the House.
A Trump defeat is about the future of the Republic, and no less than that. But the size of the Trump defeat is about what America has learned — if anything — from the terrifying fact that someone like Trump has come so close to actually winning. Not that there isn’t some danger in a complete rout. A humiliation of Trump’s true believers could simply reinforce the the idea that the election, and everything else, is rigged against them.
We won’t list all the reasons Trump is unfit for office. The big ones are as plain as the sign on any Trump-licensed building: the demagoguery, the misogyny, the bigotry, the Putinry, the media conspiracy, the international bankers’ conspiracy, the whole schmear.
In the latest would-be outrage — at some point, we passed the point of actual outrage, which is truly outrageous — Trump has been openly rooting for America and its allies in Iraq to lose the battle of Mosul, calling it, as he often does, a total disaster that makes us look dumb because, in Trump’s close reading of the military situation, we tipped off ISIS that we were going to attack. This man who is so close to getting his hands on the nuclear codes shouldn’t even be trusted to play a round of Risk, the game of global domination.
In another time, in another election, in a former America, all of this would be disqualifying. But this is this time, when the intersection of celebrity and 24-hour cable TV and run-to-your-corner websites are ready-made propaganda tools and a Trump-like figure, we can now see, was all but inevitable. And running against the Clintons, whose very existence has been central to the rise of right-wing conspiracy media, just made it that much more clear. Certainly, historians will be working on this case for generations to come.
This time is also when a wide swath of the so-called white working class, as George Packer writes in a brilliant piece in the New Yorker, has been lost by Democrats and exploited by Republicans and now represents an identity-group that someone other than Trump must champion. He wonders whether Clinton can be that person.
As Packer put it, the term “working class” once “suggested productivity and sturdiness. Now it means downwardly mobile, poor, even pathological.” He points to Sarah Palin’s visit to Greensboro, North Carolina during the 2008 election, where, she said, she found “the real America.” In fact, by that time, there had been what he calls the “great inversion.” Cities were once again the hot properties where the creative classes had clustered and the areas around places like Greensboro were “hollowing out, and politicians didn’t seem to notice.”
Trump either noticed or just lucked into it. It doesn’t matter which. But he found an abandoned America, which also found him, and together they would make America great again. Add the mix of race — eight years of the first black president, the rise of Black Lives Matter — to Clinton’s being female (you know, weak, no stamina) and suddenly you have at least 12 years of America that doesn’t look like America looked whenever it was that America was great. No wonder the alt-right deplorables and David Duke and rest came on board. No wonder they’re ready to stick with the election-is-rigged theme after Nov. 8.
But here’s an interesting point. For Trump to make it close, that means that typical Republicans will vote for Trump because that’s what we do. We have divided into teams. Don’t be fooled by the growing number of independents or unaffiliated, which is more about the fall of institutions than anything else. We have picked teams, and the question now is whether one team is ready to stick with Trump.
According to the recent CNN/ORC polls, only 57 percent of Trump supporters — yes, of his supporters — now expect him to win. This means that for those voters, the vote is a freebie. If they’re voting for Trump because of the Supreme Court, their vote won’t matter if Trump loses. If they’re voting for Trump because they don’t like Clinton, again, that vote won’t matter if Trump loses.
For many Republicans (see: Ryan, Paul), the question has been party vs. country. If Trump is going to lose anyway, it’s only about country — and how many people really think Donald Trump is fit to lead ours.