7 ways Trump is about to turn the GOP into a national freakshow

As hideous as the primary was, the general election will be so much uglier. Trump could set his party back decades

Published May 6, 2016 8:00AM (EDT)

Donald Trump   (Reuters/Darren Hauck)
Donald Trump (Reuters/Darren Hauck)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNetRepublicans across the country are swallowing hard and wondering what Donald Trump is going to be like as their presidential candidate—as if the answers are not clear enough.

Some are hoping he will dial down his vulgar mouth and start acting presidential, as if magically transformed by what mainstream media had been calling an “aura of inevitability.” You saw hints of that in his speech Tuesday night, where, in his typical swing of the pendulum style, he praised Ted Cruz after savaging him for days, even accusing Cruz’s father of consorting with John F. Kennedy’s assassin. Americans who have been paying attention already know more than enough about Trump, even if he has a showman’s gift to endlessly keep stunning and provoking. That is why two-thirds of

Americans not only tell pollsters they not only strongly disappove of him, but many are scared of him. Hillary Clinton’s negatives are high, but not like that.

There are open questions about the race as it enters a new orbit, such as how low will his ugly swipes go, or what scandals from Trump’s past will emerge, or how and when will Democrats hit back, and will they be able to stop him when all the Republican presidential hopefuls did not? The Democrats, and especially Hillary Clinton, have their playbook, while Trump’s political successes have come from throwing out the rules.

Here are seven things we know about Trump and what his candidacy will likely mean, even as the country heads into new territory led by a crazed super-celebrity billionaire.

1. Trump won’t keep his mouth shut. Any notion of better behavior or a classier act has repeatedly shown itself to be a mirage. His campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, has said that Trump will continue to be Trump, because he is “a person who tells it like it is.” That means building himself up by putting others down, whether it’s attacking Mexicans, Muslims, women who question him or his values, and anybody else for any headline-grabbing reason.

2. His persona is based on unpredictability. He bragged to the Washington Post’s editorial board that part of being a top negotiator was acting out and upsetting the other side’s expectations. And so he can be rabidly anti-choice to please evangelicals, yet come out for same-sex marriage, saying he’s known Elton John and his partner for years. Or within 24 hours he can trash Ted Cruz and then praise him. Trump believes this somehow is a magnificent virtue, not a liability for the person at the helm of national power. As Lewandowski said, Trump “has the ability to change the narrative at any moment,” as if that is a bedrock principle for governing. When Bill Clinton was president, he infamously said and believed whatever he wanted on TV all the time—facts be damned. But Trump is introducing a whole other level of dysfunction.

3. There will be no moderate makeover. That’s the old cliché; appeal to the purists and extremists to win primaries and caucuses, and come the General Election, tack to the political center because that’s where tens of millions of voters who didn’t take part in the nominating contests start paying attention. (In 2016, it looks like the primary and caucus turnout will be 30 percent of all voters next fall.)  But there is no way Trump can pretend to be moderate, given everything he has already said and social media’s reach. There’s no denying that he exults in ranting and raging as has been seen on the campaign trail. There’s no undoing what he's done and said ad nauseum for months.

4. He’ll split the party into factions. After Trump won Indiana, Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus called for the party to line up behind the presumptive nominee. That will be much harder for Republican candidates running this fall, who, looking at their own futures, will have to decide if they’ll run with him, in spite of him, or against him. All those shades are already occuring, with many longtime party leaders saying never. These fissures are likely to cost the GOP its U.S. Senate majority.

Before Trump’s clinching the nomination, there were predictions the Senate was ripe for a Democratic takeover. Twenty-four of the 34 Senate seats in play this fall are held by Republicans. Democrats only need to pick up five for a majority. The party has strong candidates in states that turn out blue majorities in presidential years, such as Illinois and Pennsylvania. Trump not only weakens these GOP incumbents, his candidacy raises a question of what may happen in the House, though GOP gerrymandering after 2010’s redistricting still deeply favors House Republicans. Nonetheless, there’s little to suggest that Trump is about to become the great unifier, meaning Republicans could face a historic meltdown and defeat this fall.

5. His campaign will be marred by scandal. Most people—except for supporters who have fallen under his “make America great again” spell—know that Trump has issues with telling the truth. You can be sure there’s plenty of dirt behind however rich he really is. The country has yet to see his tax returns, which will be a Pandora’s box of slick moves to avoid taxes. There’s Trump's four business bankrupties involving $4.7 billion in debt, where small business vendors at his casinos were partly paid, hurting the little guy. He has a little-known but extensive history with New York City’s mob, as he built and ran his casinos according to journalists who covered him for decades. And there is even his strange personal life, as pondered by the New Yorker’s new profile of a future possible first lady, Melania Trump.

6. Toss in the Supreme Court and it gets uglier. It is pretty easy to decode the game Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been playing doing everything he can to block President Obama’s latest Supreme Court nominee. McConnell is going for broke, hoping somehow the GOP will not lose its conservative majority on the Court for decades, even if it loses the White House in the shorter run. But add that stonewalling to Trump’s raging and what emerges is a political season where Americans are going to have to decide if they’re ready to hand more power to people who want to upend many things in wholly untried and untested ways. Conservatives might say Bernie Sanders is also a bombthrower, but his remedies have substantial precedents in the 1930s New Deal policies of Franklin Roosevelt and 1960s Great Society programs of Lyndon Johnson. Not so with these Republican “leaders” and a Trump-led GOP.

7. A nasty race will get nastier. Trump has singlehandedly brought a dirtier level of gutter politics to presidential politics, embracing every smear in sight and enjoying his taunts, bullying and strongman act. He’s already gone after Hillary Clinton for playing the "woman card," being incompetent, being a terrible person, accomodating her cheating husband, and more. Despite these juvenile antics, Democrats know what it means if they lose the media narrative to a headline-provoking stuntman. They are also well aware that Hillary's unfavorable ratings in national polls are akin to Trump's.

The Democrats will hit back and hit hard, but the question is not just when and how, but who? There are reports that Democratic super PACs are buying multi-millions in TV ads before the Republican Convention to shape impressions—as if that was needed (and might backfire by playing into his hands as being a target). Nonetheless, if Hillary Clinton is the nominee, as many expect, will Bill step it up? Will the current president? Trump is not the only sharp-tongued politician in America. But

Don’t Worry, Be Happy Paul Manafort, an older Washington hand who was hired to be Trump's Republican National Convention manager, told the Republican National Committee in its recent meetings in Florida that Trump has just been “playing” a part just to get the nomination and he will change once he starts campaigning for the fall.

Talking about saying anything that closes a deal! That’s like being told by the candidate himself to sit down, make yourself at home at one of his resorts, relax and have a drink, grab a meal, play some golf, grab a spa treatment and then get the super-sized bill.

It will be one thing to see Republicans pay the price for embracing Trump, and another for Americans who will be forced along for the upcoming ride. Perhaps the best thing that can be said about the coming Trump candidacy is that while he may be taking all of the country and the GOP into the gutter with him, if the past is prologue, there’s a chance Trump and his party will be left in the gutter for years to come.

By Steven Rosenfeld

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

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