For the mythographers organizing the Republican parade floats in the 2016 election pageant the sight was not a happy one, their confusion so complete that they didn’t know how to read, much less tell, the story unfolding before their lying eyes. Hot air blowing up the wrong balloons, platitudes going down like tenpins, raindrops falling on everybody’s head. Trump was worse than an embarrassment; he was a disaster, likely to roust out of the Republican Party any potential voters who weren’t devout bigots. The man was a preposterous self-promoting clown, a vulgar lout, an unscripted canary flown from its gilded cage, a braggart in boorish violation of the political-correctness codes, referring to Mexicans (some Mexicans, not all Mexicans) as “criminals” and “rapists,” questioning John McCain’s credentials as a war hero (“I like people who weren’t captured”), telling Megyn Kelly on Fox News that if from time to time he had been heard to describe women he didn’t like as “dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals,” he meant “only Rosie O’Donnell.”
Although often and reprovingly repeated by the oracles in residence at both the New York Times and the New York Post, the objections weren’t sustained by the opinion polls. Trump’s numbers kept moving up, no matter how gross his displays of political incorrectness, or how obvious his lack of interest in, or knowledge of, the details of foreign and domestic policy. Other than the building of a wall along the Mexican border and the deportation of 11 million illegal aliens, he had little to say, specifically, about how or where or when he would get tough with the Chinese, handle the situation in Syria, make America great again.
Trump maybe was a brute, uncivil and unsafe, deserving to be removed at once from the sight of mother and the flag, thrown off John Wayne’s stagecoach four miles west of nowhere, but his hold on the popular imagination attracted 24 million viewers to the first of the Republican debates, mounted by Fox News in the Quicken Loans Arena, on August 6. The protectors of the Republican Party’s virtue hoped that one of the other nine candidates would topple Trump from his catbird seat, if not the slow and steady Jeb Bush (self-styled “joyful tortoise,” mature and loving friend of the common man) then maybe Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, or Chris Christie, all of them rated by their touts as quick-witted, sharp-tongued, good at pretending that they cared about something other than themselves, able to find Aleppo on a map. During the summer of 2015, the collective attempt at Trump removal failed because the mogul didn’t take the proffered bait, declined to do so with a sense of humor that his fellow candidates lack both the nerve and the permission to engage.
Between the first debate and the second, on September 16 (under the wing of Ronald Reagan’s Air Force One in Simi Valley, California), Trump’s poll numbers continued to rise despite the fond hopes of the Republican Party’s spin doctors that his star would fade, wear out its welcome, pass and be forgotten with the rest. It didn’t happen as expected at the second debate despite the concerted efforts of CNN’s inspectors of souls to sink it below the horizon, and as of this writing (late September), it hasn’t done so yet — for reasons that Trump, schooled in the savagery of reality TV, understands, and the moralizing punditry does not...