The New York Times' Paul Krugman used his Friday column to analyze the appeal of the candidates who participated in last night's GOP debate -- in particular, he analyzed the way in which Donald Trump's obvious absurdity calls attention to the fundamental unseriousness of the candidates with whom he shared the stage.
The conventions of political reporting and commentary, Krugman argued, prevents people from saying "the obvious -- namely, that one of our two major political parties has gone off the deep end."
Not that it's completely journalists' fault, though, as "modern Republicans can't be serious -- not if they want to win primaries and have any future within the party." They have little choice but to accept "crank economics, crank science, [and] crank foreign policy" as their gospel, because the currently radicalized Republican base won't shuffle them into the general election if they don't.
The GOP is simply "a party that has no room for rational positions on many major issues" anymore, larded as it is with proud proponents of "know-nothingism" like Trump, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio.
Republicans have generally tried to preserve a facade of respectability, helping the news media to maintain the pretense that it was dealing with a normal political party. What distinguishes Mr. Trump is not so much his positions as it is his lack of interest in maintaining appearances. And it turns out that the party’s base, which demands extremist positions, also prefers those positions delivered straight. Why is anyone surprised?
Remember how Mr. Trump was supposed to implode after his attack on John McCain? Mr. McCain epitomizes the strategy of sounding moderate while taking extreme positions, and is much loved by the press corps, which puts him on TV all the time. But Republican voters, it turns out, couldn’t care less about him.
Can Mr. Trump actually win the nomination? I have no idea. But even if he is eventually pushed aside, pay no attention to all the analyses you will read declaring a return to normal politics. That’s not going to happen; normal politics left the G.O.P. a long time ago. At most, we’ll see a return to normal hypocrisy, the kind that cloaks radical policies and contempt for evidence in conventional-sounding rhetoric. And that won’t be an improvement.