Up In Smoke

Over the past year, we’ve heard a lot about “feeling the Bern.” But there’s been another hot spot smoldering since late last summer that has somehow defied full ignition.

I am of course referring to the real Burning Man, Donald Trump. Up to now, despite ongoing misstatements, falsehoods, racist and misogynist remarks, malicious personal attacks, and a basic lack of understanding of the intricacies of domestic and foreign policy that would have destroyed any other candidacy, Trump has managed to wear an inflammable suit. But that casing is starting to smoke and the GOP is feeling the heat.

Like many Republicans, I didn’t see this inferno coming. I took Trump’s initial declaration as little more than a joke. But as the GOP primaries turned into a traveling circus, my evaluation shifted from impossible to improbable, possible to likely, imminent to inevitable. In an election year when all the traditional rules are being broken, Trump’s continued success has proven decades of divisiveness, indecision and deception by the party establishment created an angry and resentful Republican base so combustible, that his incendiary rhetoric sparked a firestorm of discontent. Add in a voracious media universe that provided Trump with an estimated $2 billion of free advertising and you had the perfect accelerant.

Being a practical Republican, which unfortunately seems like an oxymoron today, I want to make a rational observation about an irrational candidate. I’m not looking to join the ranks of the “woe is us” crowd or the flamethrowers on either side who are either boasting or roasting Trump. I’m just raising a fundamental question and mentioning a few hard facts.

Let’s start with an obvious inquiry that gets buried amidst the noise. Why does Donald Trump even want to be the President of the United States? He undoubtedly wants to win, but is he ready and willing to take on the responsibility of the being the CEO of the world’s most powerful country? Ignoring his dearth of political experience, it’s almost unimaginable to see him fulfilling the basic commitments and duties of the office.

Can you imagine Trump being at a 7:30 AM security briefing? Digesting the complex details of Congressional legislation, trade agreements, and foreign policy? Reading to school kids? Standing around at a Christmas party shaking 2,000 hands? I think not.

All of Trump’s life has been about trying to be number one and at best, he’s a master salesman and at worst, a charlatan. If he captures the biggest prize of all, it will be like the movie The Candidate, where a political novice, Robert Redford, wins an unexpected Senate victory and then turns to his chief advisor and says, “What do we do now?” Baptism by fire is not an ideal scenario for The Apprentice or our country.

As Trump-ites celebrate his primary coronation, let’s recognize that he has captured approximately 11% of the general voting public and more than 90% of GOP primary voters are white. And primary votes don’t necessarily translate into general election votes. There are also substantial demographic hurdles to overcome, both ethnic and gender. Latino voters are not going to forgive Trump’s racist stance on immigration and women make up 53% of the electorate. Hillary Clinton may be an unlikeable candidate and Trump will do his best to fan the flames in her direction, but women voters are not going to just ignore demeaning and chauvinist behavior.

As we have already witnessed, there is also the very real possibility that Trump will self-immolate. Despite all the “expert advice” he’s getting in preparation for the general election, he seems incapable of transforming into someone who can resist maligning and offending people. As far as accountability, in the old days, when someone would say, “You said this,” you could simply respond, “No, I didn’t,” and it would be your word against theirs. Now, there’s the undeniable evidence of video, so Trump will essentially be asking voters, “are you going to believe me or your lying eyes?”

People can keep bashing or bemoaning Trump, but he’s not the disease, he’s the symptom of a failed party. If it weren’t Trump, it would be someone else. He was simply the Pied Piper of an inflamed base, playing the right tune at the right time. Many political pundits have wondered why Trump hasn’t changed from a primary to general election ballad; he just doesn’t know any other songs.

Trump is a self-absorbed chameleon, without any concrete ideas or political ideology of his own. What he has going for him is that people want change; it’s not an establishment election. But he’s scorching the GOP from within and there are no extinguishers in sight.

What really scares me about Donald Trump is he’s a wildfire, the hardest kind to control. My deepest hope is that America will avoid the political and diplomatic conflagration that a Trump presidency could ignite. If you’re a concerned citizen and GOP supporter, remember what we always tell our children: it’s dangerous to play with matches.