Go West! you middle-aged Menschen, Kasich and Cruz, go West to Indiana and Oregon to seek your fortune. It won't help, though it can't hurt, you can cheaply fuel your Sandersesque sailing into electoral impotence with little more than hot air, and best of all, you can coddle your egos by staying on the winding trail. It's a useless, targetless journey, to be sure, but it's something at least — exactly what, nobody knows, but presidential fever is an understandable affliction.
All those fundraising calls, all those town hall meetings, those mind-numbingly undifferentiated stump speeches and inexplicably fawning crowds — all of it had to mean something, and the latter, especially, would surely last. Wouldn't it? It's hard to let go; it's hard to utter Dwight Eisenhower's last words: "I'm ready." So, for whatever it's worth, sally forth, Kasich and Cruz.
Just know — somewhere, deep in your indefatigable little hearts — that your journey is already over. For it is, by now, inconceivable that Donald Trump hasn't already struck Cleveland gold. As Politico's Glenn Thrush frames yesterday's results: "the developer-reality-star-frontrunner did something in five big races Tuesday night that he’s never done before: He consolidated the GOP base behind him with a succession of slam-dunk wins that will make it hard for his opponents to argue he’s not the party’s legit choice."
That is to say, the party itself has struck no gold, but it has hit rock bottom. The Donald is inevitable. He won't be, or rather can't be, denied. He can go to Cleveland with 1,237 delegates or 1.236 or 1,150; each adds up to the nomination, for the base has finally decided on its biggest bully and most grotesque demagogue.
The moderates are, of course, still despairing. And as despair-mining luck would have it, the richest despondency I have yet seen is that, this morning, of Kathleen Parker's in the Washington Post, titled "Plato would be horrified by Trump’s rise." I'm a bit unclear as to why Parker hauls out what Trump's unfailingly anti-intellectual base (now, broadly, the GOP base) would recognize only as a Disney character grappling with Trumpian horrifications, but what the hell. Desperate times call for desperate measures, as they say, so Parker desperately reaches back to antiquity to make some sense of the modern horror: "Plato [believed] that rhetoric, or the art of persuasion, in the wrong hands was dangerous and likely to be abused to appeal to people’s base motives. He foresaw the unethical, dishonest uses that a skilled but immoral speaker could put his persuasive powers to, with credulous people eager to believe or buy whatever he was selling."
Or, as Plato's approximate contemporary, Aristophanes, put it with greater economy, "I am the dog, for I bark in your defense."
I would differ with Parker's assessment of Trump on two points. Is he practicing the "art of persuasion"? It seems he is only mirroring preexisting prejudices, which his party cultivated for decades. One can't lay that on Trump. Is he "immoral"? Amoral would seem to be the better descriptive fit.
And therein lies, it further seems to me, the singular danger for Trump's Democratic opposition: It is likely to adopt a paranoid, Hofstadterian view of the political "enemy," who is "clearly delineated: he is a perfect model of malice, a kind of amoral superman — sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel, sensual, luxury-loving."
Trump may be some of those things, but a superman he ain't. He's just a clown, a demagogic dog barking in the defense of a very white electoral sliver. Trump may be an overwhelming force obstructing Kasich and Cruz's paths, but in the general he'll be an electoral non-entity. Democrats, however, are likely to lose perspective and start treating the demagogue seriously — though mere ridicule is the best attack.