Christmas 2016 -- Taking One For The Country

We are in the Christmas season.

The kids have been fine tuning their letters to Santa for months and by now have sent them off. Spouses are discreetly (or not so discreetly) signaling each other on what particular item under the Christmas tree might be more than favorably received. Relatives are combing through their bank accounts to decide what distant cousins will be the recipients of seasonal largess. And even some of the bosses are figuring out the bonuses.

It is a time of giving . . .

And receiving.

But, as my wife is wont to point out, usually starting in about September, you can't get what you want if you do not ask for what you want. So, I'm asking.

And what I want for Christmas is . . .

The end of Donald Trump as a viable candidate for President.

This request raises three questions. The first is whether Trump in fact is a viable candidate for President. The second is how, if his candidacy is viable, it can be defeated. And the third is who -- or what -- can actually make this happen.

For months I assumed that the answer to the first question was a resounding "No." His hairness's penchant for the outrageous and unacceptable knows no bounds and surely would de-rail him. As Tim Egan pointed out today in the New York Times, Trump has literally alienated every non-white, non-male group in the country, with the possible exception of non-hispanic Native Americans. "He started with 'the blacks,' through his smear campaign on the citizenship of the nation's first African-American president. Moved on to Mexicans, war veterans, women who look less than flawless in middle age, the disabled, all Muslims and now people whose grandparents were rousted from their American homes and put in camps."

This last reference was to the Japanese-Americans whose now widely repudiated internment during World War II has been used by Trump to justify his proposed plan to bar any non--citizen Muslims from entering the country. As Egan concluded, with about 35% of their voters siding with The Donald, the "Republican Party is now home to millions of people who would throw out the Constitution, welcome a police state against Latinos and Muslims, and enforce a religious test for entry into a country built by people fleeing religious persecution. This stuff polls well in their party, even if the Bill of Rights does not."

Part of me thought that the sheer stupidity of these pronouncements would end Trump's campaign even if the racist, sexist, cypto-fascist and irredentist xenophobia of them did not. There are about 1.8 billion Muslims in the world. 2.75 million of them live here in the United States. Trump is proposing to bar all but American citizens from entering the country, or about 99.99% of them. Intelligence services here and in Europe estimate that, at best, less than 1% of the Muslims living within our respective borders are even "at risk for being radicalized," and that an infinitesimal percentage will actually become terrorists. In fact, between 1980 and 2005, there were more terrorist acts -- 9/11 included -- undertaken by non-Muslims than Muslims. What, therefore, we lawyers would call the "overbreadth" of Trump's plan is off the charts. At the same time, his proposed ban actually strengthens Islamic extremists, providing them with Exhibit A in their "the West hates all of us" campaign.

So, even if our fears started to overwhelm our values, if -- as often occurs in times of war and emergency (see the Japanese internment during World War II, McCarthyism afterward, or the Red Scare in the 1920s) -- paranoia became a substitute for principle, I thought common sense might still prevail . . .

I thought, in other words, that Obama's audacity of hope would not be brought down by the audacity of a dope.

But that has not happened.

In fact, as his "ban the Muslims" pronouncement proves, the opposite is the case. Trump's share of the Republican primary electorate actually increased after he made his announcement, and even a sizable number of those opposed to his plan commended him for "starting the conversation," whatever that means. (Memo to the conversants: The only appropriate end to the conversation is to say the proposed ban violates everything our country stands for.)

It is therefore beyond time to take seriously the possibility that Donald Trump may well be nominated for President by the Republican Party. The Iowa caucuses and first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary are less than two months away. He is leading by large margins in both states and if he wins them, the race will move south where he is very strong among Republican primary votes. The notion that someone with a consistent 30-35% of the vote could run the table and win among a field of five to ten contenders is not at all far fetched. In fact, it is the likely outcome. Similarly, the notion that Trump will arrive at the GOP convention in Cleveland next year with less than the required majority of delegates is (a) risky and (b) almost beside the point. There hasn't been even a species of a brokered political convention in this country for more than eighty years and none since the advent of controlling primaries. If Trump wins the lion's share of the primary vote, it will be almost impossible to deny him the nomination.

So there you have it.

As of today, the Republican Party's most likely nominee for President in 2016 is the racist, sexist, crypto-fascist xenophobe who stupidity apparently cannot stop.

Now, as a Democrat, there is a level at which I should welcome this result, Trump's list of nefarious "isms" overcoming any lingering doubts about Hillary's emails . . . or her husband . . . or Benghazi.

But I don't welcome it.

For two reasons.

First, politics is unpredictable and politics is the face of paranoia and fear even more so. The actual terrorists -- all "thousands" of them -- would prefer a Trump presidency because it fulfills their worst prophesies about the west and makes more likely the Armageddon they foresee in the middle east. If, between 2016's summer conventions and fall election, there is another San Bernadino or Paris style attack, paranoia could easily triumph in the form of a Trump presidency.

Which would be an unmitigated disaster.

Second, for all its current problems -- and, from their love affair with the economic austerity that forestalled a full recovery from the lesser Depression of 2008, to their penchant for international folly inherent in violating the nostrum of John Quincy Adams that America not go "abroad in search of monsters to destroy," there are many -- the GOP is a great political party. As the party of Lincoln, it ended slavery, America's original sin; as the party of Teddy Roosevelt, it championed a regulated capitalism that became the linchpin of progressivism; as the party of Reagan, it helped bring the Cold War to a successful conclusion. Trump -- therefore -- is doing far more than destroying the GOP's brand.

He is destroying its soul.

And has to be stopped.

And the only people who can do that are Republican elites.

Trump's viability very much depends on the size of the Republican Presidential field. As noted, in a crowded field with five to ten candidates, his 30-35% share of the vote is enough to win. That percentage fails, however, in a race against one, two or no more than a few others. The majority of sane Republicans understands that Trump as president is a very dangerous prospect. Dangerous for our standing in the world, and -- given his crypto-fascism -- dangerous to the experiment we call American democracy.

But at this point there are only three ways to de-rail him.

First, we can sit back and hope the GOP's primary voters leave him in droves, which is unlikely.

Second, the establishment Republican candidates -- Bush, Kasich, Christie, Pataki, Gilmore, Graham, and perhaps even Huckabee and Santorum -- could get together and choose one of their number to run going forward, all the others agreeing to drop out. This would shrink the field to that one candidate plus Trump, Carson, Fiorina and Cruz. Carson and Fiorina would draw non-politician votes that would otherwise go to Trump; Cruz would eat into Trump's reactionary, nativist base; and the "establishment" candidate would win. This approach has to be manufactured by the candidates themselves because there is no likelihood given the current numbers that the primaries are going to do the winnowing job for them and certainly no guarantee that the winnowed field will be one from which Trump cannot win.

Third, barring a departure en masse in favor of one viable alternative to Trump, the identified group -- along with all other Republican elites, including the chairman of the GOP, the Speaker of the House, and the Senate Majority Leader -- could simply pledge not to support Trump if he is the party's eventual nominee. This would probably make Trump act on his threat to undertake a third part bid, thus more or less handing the presidency to Hillary. But my bet is that, in a Hillary v. Trump contest, John McCain, Mitt Romney, John Kasich, and the Bush brothers (and father) are voting for Hillary anyway. . .

Because it would be the right thing to do.

So, to my friends in the Republican Party . . .

Rid yourself of The Donald . . .

Take one for the country . . .

And Merry Christmas.