Let us now praise Donald Trump.
With his dominating win in the Nevada Republican caucuses on Tuesday, following similarly decisive wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina, Trump has successfully hijacked the Republican Party. That's no small feat.
In Nevada, Trump won 46 percent of the Republican vote, more than 20 percentage points ahead of his closest rivals, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Trump crushed his competitors among just about every key demographic, according to entrance and exit polls: men, women, Republicans, independents, conservatives, moderates, evangelical and born-again Christians, whites, non-whites (including Latinos), people with less than a high school diploma all the way up to those with postgraduate degrees, rural, urban, and angry voters. His only weak spots appeared to be among voters who want a candidate with experience in politics, "who can win in November," and who "shares my values."
Republican insiders think that by winnowing the GOP field down from five candidates to two — preferably with Rubio as the anti-Donald — they can still defeat Trump. And they believe that they have until March 15 to stop Trump from winning the nomination, they tell The Washington Examiner's Byron York.
But conservative media powerhouse Matt Drudge crowned Trump "the nominee" on Tuesday night, The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza has already moved on to floating Trump running mates, and Trump himself made a good point in his ebullient victory speech on Tuesday night: "Tomorrow you'll be hearing, 'You know, if they could just take the other candidates and add 'em up, and if you could add them up — because, you know, the other candidates amount to 55 percent....' They keep forgetting that when people drop out, we're going to get a lot of votes." He predicted that he'll secure the nomination in two months, but "we might not even need the two months, folks, to be honest." He's probably not wrong. So if you believe Donald Trump leading the Republican Party into the general election is bad for the GOP, Tuesday's results are a disaster.
How has the real estate mogul, best-selling business author, and reality TV star defied all predictions and conventional wisdom to make himself the prohibitive favorite to win the Republican nomination? At CNN, Mel Robbins — who also called the race for Trump — has some plausible explanations, including that as in successful businesses, Trump has disrupted the status quo and rewritten the rules. She also lists: "He's real," "he doesn't care what you think," "many Americans hate Washington," and "you want to see him debate."
I would add one more: He makes people feel smart. On policy detail, Trump is a disaster — if you're running for president, you should know what the nuclear triad is, for example, and if you're slamming a Pacific Rim trade deal, you should know what's in it. Rubio and Cruz are obviously both very smart, and they have no compunction about letting you know it. When either one tries to act folksy, it's cringe-inducingly phony. Donald Trump is also smart, but he's clearly being Donald Trump, and having fun doing it.
Nobody likes being talked down to, and Republicans seem to be especially tired of being lectured by Washington politicians, Hollywood celebrities, and other members of the elite — ironically, a grievance long stoked by the Republican establishment for electoral gain. Trump is super wealthy and successful, but he's not polished, and although he's arguably the best politician in the 2016 race, he doesn't sound like a politician.
"What the hell is caucus?" Trump asked supporters on Monday night in Las Vegas. "Nobody even knows what it means." Still, he pleaded with the audience to go vote, saying: "If you're not there, I'm going to be so angry. Don't make me have a miserable evening." Cruz was running an ad accusing Trump of supporting federal ownership of public lands — a big topic in Nevada ranch country, and a huge recent news story after the Oregon militia standoff — but Trump said at his rally federal land use is "not a subject I know anything about.... I don't even know what the hell they're talking about."
Trump is a populist showman (albeit one with paternalistic and authoritarian inclinations). He belittles and insults people with power — and lots of other people, actually — but he doesn't talk down to his supporters.
Cruz could never have gotten away with proclaiming, as Trump did in his Nevada victory speech, that "I love the poorly educated." And if Trump had bragged about how women "left their kitchens" to support him, as John Kasich did on Monday, nobody would have expected him to apologize, and he wouldn't have.
Maybe that's why Trump is such a problem for the Republican Party. He's winning on populist style points against a group of rivals gunning to rack up debate, policy, and electability points. In Nevada, with the GOP field winnowed down to basically a three-person race, Trump was supposed to be boxed in and lose ground. Instead, he broadened his base and increased his share of the GOP electorate from about a third to very nearly half.
Donald Trump may still make a fatal error, like Napoleon's decision to march to Moscow. But right now it looks like Trump is the Duke of Wellington, the role of Napoleon is being played by the Republican leadership, and dawn is breaking over Waterloo.