Don’t kid yourself: With help from people and institutions viewed by the voting public as “legitimate,” Donald Trump could win.
Many mistakes of omission have been made as Donald Trump has surged toward the Republican nomination: The Republican party didn’t take him seriously; Democrats laughed; the mainstream media treated him as an entertaining ratings booster; virtually everybody stood by and watched him, but didn’t challenge his outrageous statements.
That was bad enough. But now, as Trump has begun to pile up delegates in primary and caucus states, we’re in a new and much scarier phase. Despite panic on the right and fantasies about a “brokered” convention, Trump is beginning to look inevitable. And with inevitability comes even more danger: the bandwagon effect. All of a sudden, looking at the political landscape, a lot of people—politicians, pundits and groups that will want access and influence if Trump is elected—are going to declare their fidelity. Their political and economic futures depend on being able to say that they were on board with the winner.
Here’s an example: Just last night, Tim Pawlenty [Republican former Governor of Minnesota] appeared on MSNBC. Until Super Tuesday II, Pawlenty was supporting Marco Rubio, who dropped out of the race after a very poor showing. Asked whether he would now be supporting Trump—the front-runner—Pawlenty dodged a bit, but implied that he very well might endorse Trump, precisely because Trump could be the standard-bearer for the Republican ticket. And Pawlenty is a loyal Republican.
This is a dangerous prospect. Why? Because history demonstrates that right-wing authoritarian leaders—like Trump—gain power when legitimate institutions and people begin to support them. The support of the Vatican, for example, is not the only reason that Italy’s Benito Mussolini surged to power, but it was a key ingredient. And now, we may be seeing the beginning of a related phenomenon in our own presidential election: First it was Chris Christie—deeply flawed and unloved as he is, he’s still a legitimate governor and political force. Now, we have the prospect of Pawlenty—bringing with him real credentials from a “nice” state. Who’s next?
Some will endorse Trump out of party loyalty: You know, the old adage about Republicans not falling in love, but falling in line. Others will just give up and get on board after seeing the handwriting on the wall. All of them will earn the dubious distinction of being political enablers–knowing that Trump is wrong for the country, but lacking the courage to stand up against the bully, and fearful of the retaliation that could come their way if they say what needs to be said.
Many endorsements don’t mean much. People like celebrities, but their political views and endorsements don’t carry that much weight. The Ku Klux Klan, American Nazi sympathizers, and other nativist, anti-immigrant groups are already on board. That’s not a surprise. But they’re seen, by most voters, as fringe groups. When mainstream politicians and institutions start throwing their support behind a candidate like Trump, people sit up and take notice: They bring an aura of legitimacy to a candidacy that could otherwise be seen as an anomaly or an aberration.
And, while the establishment wing of the Republican party pretends to be going ape shit over a Trump takeover, it’s not that much of a stretch to imagine that, in the end, the big dogs will roll over and support Trump. Fox News—the propaganda wing of the Republican party—has appeared to turn on Trump, but not before enabling him by giving him virtually unlimited air time. And, in the end, Fox too may find a way back to loving Trump—if only as a way ensuring ratings, profits, and access if Trump wins. Personally, I don’t view Fox as a legitimate news source, but many people do. So, when Fox comes out strong for Trump, it will be another step in sanctioning his rise to power.
Okay, so the New York Times probably won’t succumb. But many other news sources and influential institutions, like churches, perhaps, may. And when that happens, watch out: An America “led” by a legitimized Donald Trump would be an extremely scary place.