If Donald Trump running for president was a social experiment on a national scale, what lessons or conclusions can we draw from it?
Frogs boil quickly.** In a matter of months, Trump went from national laughingstock to actually standing a legitimate chance of becoming president. A large segment of American society has accepted Trump, or tolerated Trump, remarkably quickly. The attitude towards Trump being president “normalized” into either acceptance or “it’s not that outrageous” ambivalence. America has tolerated the idea of Trump for president with eyes wide open. Sure, much of America still finds the idea of a President Trump revolting - Trump is, after all, trailing Hillary at the moment - but what was once a joke, an “Trump for President? It can’t possibly happen!” notion has suddenly become mainstream.
**The American public has become remarkably tolerant of candidate flaws. ** A mere four years ago, Mitt Romney’s 47% remark did significant damage to his campaign. Today, such a comment wouldn’t even place at No. 20 on the list of “Things done or said by Trump that ought to be politically suicidal but aren’t.” Hillary is certainly a flawed candidate, too, and yet she and Trump - two of the most disliked politicians in America - are the two remaining main contestants for the top job in the world.
Decades ago, Bush Sr. trailed Dukakis by 17% in the polls. Years later, Bush trailed Clinton by more than 20% in the polls. Years later, Gore trailed Bush Jr. by 11% in the polls. Kerry trailed Bush Jr. by 13% in one poll. And if we go back more decades, Ford and Reagan both once trailed Carter by enormous margins in the polls at one point in their respective presidential elections. All of these politicians - Bush Sr., Gore, Ford, Reagan and Kerry - were much more respectable and dignified than Trump is today - yet Trump today is trailing Hillary Clinton by *less *than those politicians trailed by at those moments. At the moment, Hillary’s lead over Trump might not even be 9%. This indicates the American public has become much more forgiving of flaws than before.
Political parties take democratic process remarkably seriously. ** Many speculated that the GOP establishment would never allow Trump to be the nominee and would devise some way to deny him nominee status, yet the GOP leadership largely acquiesced and shrugged, *“He got the most votes in the primaries, so even though he’s a buffoon and a terrible person, the process says he gets to be the nominee so we got to honor the process.” * In doing so, the GOP demonstrated that it honors the process to a remarkable extent - it’s hard to think of a more severe test of a party’s commitment to the “process” than this.
**Many people mistake arrogance for confidence. ** Confidence is a highly attractive trait. Unfortunately, many people mistake arrogance for confidence (the well-documented “Why are bad guys attractive” phenomenon) and so this is why Trump has that charisma, or at least apparently still did, to his voting base, as recently as a couple of months ago.
Human nature remains unchanged.** Many people are still drawn to demagogues and fearmongering and the nature of fascism. For all the history lessons about Hitler, Mao, Stalin and Mussolini, human nature remains unchanged; people are drawn to strongmen, those who can voice a populace’s anger and preach radical change or upheaval.
**Each political party has a “floor” of minimal voting support that it is not likely to fall below. ** In today’s political climate, the Republican Party or Democratic Party could nominate a terrible candidate and still get perhaps at least 30% of the vote at the polls on Election Day. (Donald Trump is still poised to get around 35-40% at the very minimum in November, for all of his outrageous behavior.)
…in the end, the establishment still wins. **Bernie Sanders didn’t come anywhere close to defeating Hillary, and Trump won’t either. The power of the anti-establishment movement is greatly exaggerated. The media likes to play up the popularity of the anti-establishment, anti-incumbent fervor to be more potent than it is, but it still dissipates against the immovable wall that is the establishment.