I noted earlier this week that Donald Trump is uniquely reliant on strong poll numbers. Every candidate is dependent on good poll numbers for morale, fundraising and more. But Trump’s platform isn’t abolishing Obamacare or lowering taxes or kicking more ass in the Middle East. His platform is “winning.” So if he’s clearly not winning, it’s uniquely debilitating. But there’s another way to understand this phenomenon, a broader framework for understanding Trump’s current rough patch. It is the inherent turbulence faced by a bullshit-based candidate making first contact with an at least loosely reality-based world.
In the Trump bubble crowd sizes at his rallies are the most effective barometer of public opinion. They mean he’ll win. Polls are dumb, especially when they show he’s losing. He opposed the Iraq War before there was even an Iraq. Public opinion is defined by the mix of white nationalists and white sad sacks who populate his Twitter feed. As I noted, this is all the mindset of the high pressure sale, a spun up reality that exists with little necessary connection to anything outside the bubble of the sale. It’s not counter-reality, just indifferent to reality.
But Trump now needs to operate with and collaborate with people who will face real electorates in November. They know a modern presidential campaign requires $1 billion dollars of funding. They still know it does after Trump insists it only requires $50 million. No one outside the Trump fact bubble believes that.
Here we get back to the simple, critical difference between between the primaries and the general election. Trump supporters exist entirely within the Trump fact bubble. They were more than sufficient to win the Republican primaries. They either believe his claims or are indifferent to their accuracy. The Trump world is based on a self-contained, self-sustaining bullshit feedback loop. Trump isn’t racist. He’s actually the least racist person in America. Hispanics aren’t offended by his racist tirades against Judge Curiel. He’s going to do great with Hispanics! Didn’t you see the new Hispanics for Trump Facebook page? He’ll put California in play and it won’t even be that hard.
Trump can say he’s going to get historically high numbers of African-American votes, but the worried Republican officials he’s talking to know that’s nonsense after he says it just as much as they did before he said it.
Trump’s problem is that the general election puts him in contact with voters outside the Trump bubble and just as important necessary allies (all Republican office holders) who rely on voters outside the Trump fact bubble. Not that many maybe, but enough of them.
To put it more concretely, as I said at the top, the general election puts a bullshit based candidacy in direct contact with the reality based world. That creates not only turbulence but turbulence that builds on itself because the interaction gets in the spokes of each of these two, fundamentally different idea systems. You’re seeing the most telling signs of that with the growing number of Republicans who, having already endorsed Trump, are now literally refusing to discuss him or simply walking away when his name is mentioned. In one of the most extreme examples, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), an early and aggressive Trump supporter who actually co-chairs Trump’s House Leadership Committee is now incensed when he’s asked to defend Trump!
“I am not a surrogate,” Hunter told The Hill yesterday. I am a congressman. I can’t speak for anybody else but me. Everybody’s asking me to explain all these things that he said. Some of these things, I don’t know what Donald Trump is thinking. … I don’t know where Donald Trump is coming from.”
This is why all the claims about the cable networks creating Trump and the press not doing their job through the Fall and Spring were basically mistaken. As long as Trump was campaigning within the Trump fact bubble, no outside criticism or scrutiny really mattered. But Trump is now needing to collaborate or coexist with candidates who need to run in November in electorates that are not 100% white and right-wing. That’s a big problem. Because his ability to spin up alternative realities for them is quite limited.
The biggest warning sign on top of this is that that inevitable turbulence created by a bullshit based campaign making first contact with a (loosely) reality based world does not seem to be having a softening effect on Trump. It seems to be making him more hyperbolic and aggressive, especially toward the political allies he most needs. That portends more severe turbulence to come.