And so, the shiny, grotesquely gaudy Trump mylar balloon finally comes to its deflated end. Will Trump go on to win New Hampshire in a week? He may, but don’t be surprised if he doesn’t because his campaign, which is hardly even a fitting term for his buffoonery, is over. Had he won in Iowa by more than a few points, Trump certainly would have gone on to New Hampshire and then South Carolina and would have had real momentum, and his national embarrassment would have continued for a while. He would have done well in the Southern states, though almost certainly he would not have lasted to see the balloon drop at the convention in Cleveland.
There are many reasons for Trump’s collapse, but sadly, being the flag bearer for the very worst and most unamerican traits is not first on the list. Trump could have very successfully incorporated his racist and xenophobic themes into a very long and successful campaign, and could have taken that message all the way to the Republican Convention floor and won there. It was not his message of intolerance that did him in- and that is a tragedy. What kept him from every gaining real traction with real voters was that he never developed a real message or actually built a campaign. It was all just fun and games, a thrilling romp through a narcissistic fantasy- but it was never anything more than that.
Trump never listened to anyone because, like a lot of successful business people, he never thought he had to. He was so convinced of his own righteousness- which was endlessly reinforced by crowds of thousands of adoring and chanting fans- that he became convinced he was like the Kaaba in the center of Mecca, and that all he had to do was be there and the faithful would come to worship in their millions. Though he put a lot of fear into a lot of folks- wealthy establishment Republicans probably more than anyone else- the reality is that no one is the history of American democracy has been the Kaaba. It just doesn’t work that way.
The prosaic, unshakable reality of America presidential politics is the organized ground game. What really elects people to the nation’s highest office is an army of devoted, unpaid folks who knock on doors and make phone calls. That- and nothing else- is what actually works. Yes, a candidate has to have the rest of the package- public speaking skills, media charisma and a compelling narrative and message. But without the organized door knockers, they can never win over the long haul. Someday, when people can all vote on the Internet, that will be different, but that day is not coming anytime soon. Barack Obama understood this, and that’s why he’s just wrapping up his second term as president.
What Trump, and so many ego-driven others before him, never wanted to accept is that in order to have a winning ground game, you have to hire an experienced political staff who knows how to run one- and they are not cheap and you have to leave them to it and not interfere. People like Trump- business people- generally find this impossible to do. They are used to knowing how their business works, being on top of it and relying on their own decisions and judgement. Being in the position of having to write big, fat checks to people they don’t know who are doing jobs they don’t understand is really, really hard for them. Trump’s biggest expenditure? $1.2 million- on hats. Hats he understands. Voter data and actual outreach, not so much.
For all of its many shortcomings, American democracy at the presidential level is not fertile soil for those who rely on the cult of their own personality alone. While many issues get people riled up, in order to win there also has to be a coherent and understandable message and comprehensive plan for governing. A candidate has to have answers not just to the hot button issues, but to the wide and complex landscape of problems and day to day decisions that a government must make to keep running. Most of it is deadly dull and the mastery of it takes a career, which is why so few people make their way all the way up the food chain to become serious candidates for the presidency. “Build a wall and make Mexico pay for it,” will appeal to the losers on the political spectrum, but thankfully, America is not in economic free fall and losers who use their welfare money to buy “Make America Great Again” hats a big enough voting block to elect a president. At least not yet.
Will Trump hang around? Yes, certainly for a while unless his collapse is so swift that he loses in New Hampshire, then he will throw in the towel to avoid further embarrassment. It won’t be fun for him anymore, and that’s what this is all about. And losing is no fun.