We’ve seen Donald Trump move more to the center-left as he grew more confident he would win the Republican nomination.
Trump became bolder in moving to (or simply revealing his affinity for) the Left, since vanquishing an exasperated Ted Cruz in May. The New York businessman’s embrace of the authoritarian Left is causing a reevaluation of the established political wisdom holding that Republicans were on the Right and Democrats were on the Left. The results of this paradigm shift were on display at the Democratic National Convention this week, when both President Obama and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton made overtures to get conservative votes with rhetoric (however sporadic) evoking Ronald Reagan, while Trump made overt appeals to Bernie Sanders’ supporters.
The root cause of this devolution is Republicans’ devaluing of their own support. Republicans have destroyed their own bargaining power, giving up their support and their integrity in exchange for the hope for an indulgence from a President Trump. The GOP base has become revealed as the cheapest of cheap dates, and its desperation is repulsive.
Donald Trump cannot be blamed for this. He is a negotiator and successful businessman – at least once in a while. He is running as a populist Leftist with the occasional position (e.g., enforcing border controls, ergo, “build the wall”) that sounds conservative, to conservatives’ ears, simply because it employs common sense.
Trump is doing that, because he can. Republicans, and many self-described conservatives, have enabled him because Republicans’ own past behavior has shown that they:
- Will support any nominee as long as he appears to run to the right of the Democrat;
- Rarely exercise protest votes; and
- Will compromise on just about any major single issue, including abortion.
Given their own behavior, which Trump surely has studied as part of his market analyses to design his reality television adventures, it should be no surprise that Trump has run as an unabashed populist liberal who is all but openly mocking his own supporters.
The core reason is summed up with one word: leverage.
Trump has it, and Republican voters gave it up long ago.
Trump now runs as a leftist populist, because he faces no penalty for it.
This, you see, is the core of the successful negotiation. It also fits in with Trump’s central principle: In business, the only principle is winning. His only principle is winning. Beyond that, he appears amoral. Higher principles – ahem, any principles — do not govern nor restrain him. Only the basest self-interest seems to animate him.
Republicans either ignored these points, or worse, they consciously accepted them. The latter theory (together with perhaps the total absence of any political or moral principles) explains the astonishing, widespread and rapid capitulation of party leaders.
So how can the conservative deal with Donald Trump? Can conservatives win in any dealings with Trump?
The stiffest requirement is the courage to accept the unpleasant reality, the harshest truth. The only dealings one can have with Trump must be made with caution and unwavering discipline. Trump cannot be trusted and he cannot be convinced of the righteousness of a position or principle, since facts and principles matter not to him. Worse, Trump cannot necessarily be dealt with on the basis of the promise of economic self-interest. Offering him a deal where both parties benefit may not be of interest to him, since his concept of “winning” often seems to involve not a tangible gain, but rather the visible and measurable infliction of harm, pain or humiliation upon an adversary.
Trump will do a deal only when one of two things happen: He either wins on his own terms, or he is forced to deal on someone else’s terms.
The common denominator is power, who has it and who is willing to use it. Nothing else matters. In short, Trump is about power. He understands power, he wields it, he respects it. And he exploits its absence.
Trump may be bargained with, and he may offer something in return, but only when he must do so – when his adversary has the leverage he lacks for that moment – or when his “offer” can be used as an inducement to set up a mark to be suckered in a future bet. Even so, such illusory cooperative moments may be rare and fleeting; even then, they risk becoming the grist for his atavistic desire for revenge. So any temporary gain may come with the trepidation of a looming attack.
Now, ask yourselves: Do Republicans have any leverage, any leverage at all, over Trump this year?
At this point, the only leverage is to withhold your votes. But even this is no guarantee of (nor even the basis for any reasonable hope for) a respectful, cooperative President Trump. There is no promise Donald Trump may make which may not be broken. Republicans may vote for him in the greatest leap of faith, and once those votes are cast, all bets are off. As someone who probably views trust as an exploitable weakness, Trump cannot be trusted because any grant of trust will invite attack.
On this reasoning, Donald Trump can never be trusted. He will also never be subject to the ultimate political leverage. If he wins, all bets will be off and he will consider himself immune from any accountability after the fact.
Given his nature, conservatives should treat him as the Hazmat team treats a suspicious package. Interactions should be limited and made only when absolutely unavoidable. Expectations must be reduced accordingly, to the barest minimum. Because he is Toxic Trump.
The prudent conservative must view Trump as a man with whom one must expect any interaction to result in one or more of the following: disappointment, defeat, loss and betrayal. Unless conservatives have sufficient leverage to extract the deal they want and need from Trump, they ought never to deal with him.
As diplomats will tell you, when you can’t win the negotiation, you better be ready to win the war.