Donald Trump and the power of denial
I hate Donald Trump and much of what he represents. But do you know what I hate even more?
The right has been deep in denial for years. Honed under the last Republican president into a sure-fire method of inspiring confident resolve in the face of adversity, denial of reality has by now become almost second nature to many party apparatchiks and their intellectual compatriots in the right-wing media. Of course we'll find weapons of mass destruction! The occupation is going just fine! It's not Bush's fault that New Orleans got caught with a bull's eye on its back when Hurricane Katrina blew by! You can't expect the president who's been in office for seven and a half years to take responsibility for the worst financial crisis in seven decades!
Coulda happened to anyone.
And now, after seven more years of denial — this time about Barack Obama's popularity, the Affordable Care Act, and much else — the instinct to close eyes and cover ears in the face of what most people would consider very bad news has settled into the slow-motion car wreck of the GOP primaries.
Donald Trump has now won 26 states. (His nearest competitor for the nomination, Ted Cruz, has won 11.) Trump prevailed in all five northeastern states that voted on Tuesday, all five of them with over 50 percent of the vote, and some with over 60 percent. (Cruz appears to have finished in third place in four of the five states.) Trump is now on track to reach or come extremely close to the magic number of 1,237 delegates by the end of primary season. (Cruz will be nearly 400 delegates behind him after Tuesday's totals are sorted out.) If Trump falls a little short — because, say, his 17-point lead in California shrinks a bit — he is extremely likely to lock up the remaining delegates in the weeks between the last primaries on June 7 and the start of the Republican convention on July 18.
Barring some unforeseen event that completely upends the race over the next six weeks, Donald Trump is going to be the Republican Party's nominee for president in 2016.
How do I know this? Because it's been painfully obvious for a long time now that the Republican electorate prefers Trump to any of the alternatives running for the White House.
Yes, it really is that simple.
Was it obvious from the start of the primary season? No. But it was a lot less impossible to imagine than a dismayingly large number of conservative pundits seemed to think. Trump bounded to the front of the pack very quickly after announcing his candidacy last summer, and his polling lead has never seriously wavered in the intervening 10 months. While columnists and commentators spent the fall gaming out the caucuses and primaries to come, convincing themselves that Rubio or Bush or Christie was the real frontrunner, Trump stayed firmly in the polling lead.
And you know what? That meant Trump was winning.
Of course I realize that no votes had yet been cast. And that no modern party has ever elected a candidate like Trump. But the numbers weren't lying. We learned that for sure once the voting began and it became clear that people weren't simply threatening to vote for the man: They were actually going through with it. That meant the polls were measuring something real.
And that something hasn't gone away.
It was there when Trump faced a dozen opponents. It was still there when he was competing against six. And it's been there since the field narrowed to three.
It was there when Marco Rubio tried to strike a deal with Cruz and Kasich to deny Trump wins in Florida, Ohio, and Missouri, and Trump ended up winning all of them except Ohio (which, of course, was won by the sitting governor of the state — a candidate incapable of winning anywhere else).
And it's there now, with Cruz and Kasich working desperately to find some way, somehow to keep Trump from reaching 1,237 delegates.
Oh, have I mentioned that on Tuesday morning Trump reached 50 percent for the first time in NBC News' national weekly tracking poll? (Cruz languishes at 26 percent.)
I get the importance of resolution in practical endeavors. I understand the psychological necessity of driving doubts from one's mind in order to lift morale and keep focused on achieving a goal. If you're a committed Republican or movement conservative who hates the thought of the party nominating Trump, you may find it necessary (or at least helpful) to convince yourself that he's bound to lose, that someone else can surely prevail against him, even if it requires banishing evidence to the contrary from your mind. In such a situation, the belief that victory is possible can make victory far more likely.
But there comes a time when all the pep talks and desperate rationalizations (like calling Trump's wins a "hostile takeover" of the party) start to sound ridiculous. That's when even those who've become addicted to denial should be able to recognize that it's doing far more harm than good.
That time has now arrived.
By all means, help Cruz prevail in Indiana next Tuesday. Do what you can to keep Trump's delegate total down. But please, Republicans, wake up from your self-induced slumber and begin to confront what reality has wrought.
The national leader of your party is Donald Trump.