Why Trump is a Bad Idea

A friend asked me to explain to a Trump-curious acquaintance why backing The Donald was a dead end. This was my response:

To give you an idea of where I’m coming from I’ve been in the anybody-but-Jeb* camp from the jump, not because I dislike the guy or think he’d be a terrible President, but because I think he cuts the worst contrast to Hillary and the last thing we need is another Bush-Clinton match-up decided in the political trenches. I am a big fan of Scott Walker and had hoped to see him be the guy, but they didn’t build their campaign to account for Trump’s entry, so obviously that ship has sailed.

As for Trump, it’s not that I don’t think he could win (though he’d be defying political gravity if he managed to pull it off)- it’s that I think putting him in office is a gigantic leap of faith that he hasn’t earned. I’d argue there is no reason to take his policy stances seriously even if you agree with them 100%- without exception they are new to him, and in many cases contradictory to his longstanding public comments. There is no cogent philosophy or set of principles that he subscribes to other than the power and virtue of his own dealmaking ability. I don’t like the current strongman in the White House, so I’m really not interested in putting one there who wears my team's jersey, however nominally.

I get the value of Trump as the anti-Jeb, and in a lot of ways I think that’s the reason for his entry and for the way his candidacy has resonated. He is the antithesis of a conventional milquetoast dynasty pol in every way. But that doesn’t mean we should hand him the keys to the national station wagon.

On the other hand I like to think through a counterfactual scenario where Jeb doesn’t run- you’re probably looking at a Romney candidacy, and for all the skepticism about him from the base, for better or worse, I’m not sure Trump has the same opening. For one thing Trump trashed his “mean-spirited” immigration policies as “crazy” and “maniacal” less than three years ago, and as recently as June he was saying illegals should be able to stay. So he’s really not the guy to be taking the mantle of Kate Steinle, much less some kind of border hawk savior. And if the opponent is a successful career businessman rather than a career politician, I’m not sure he even runs at the end of the day. In the end I have my doubts that Romney necessarily wins that primary, and you’d definitely have consolidation around an outsider, whether it’s Carson or Cruz or whomever, but the bottom line is that it would be a totally different race without Jeb as the bête noire.

Unfortunately I see them being completely symbiotic- much of his base thinks opposition to Trump is de facto support for Jeb, and fear of Trump is probably Jeb’s last best hope for being the one to emerge from the establishment “lane.” In the end I think a one-on-one matchup with Jeb is the only way Trump manages to win this thing, if only because he’d lose to just about anybody else per polling matchups.

Even if Trump stays at the current 25–30% vote share he has today, and a hopelessly splintered field continues to render that enough for a “win,” the delegate math is such that you’re talking about an inevitable floor flight and/or brokered convention in Cleveland. The math just isn’t there for him or anybody else to take the necessary majority (to say nothing of other new stipulations) to win the nomination outright. So I see him taking delegates into the convention, maybe even getting a Buchanan-style primetime speaking role as a concession, but the idea of him winning in that environment when there are so many folks with broader appeal (e.g. Rubio, Cruz) when the rules are set by the RNC is beyond my wildest imagination.

I talked about this at length on twitter a few weeks ago:

None of this even ponders the rule change that further raises the bar:

Trump’s MAGA perpetual motion machine may or may not sputter, but if he doesn’t… I’ll see you in Cleveland.