Hey Democrats: Be Careful What You Wish For

Donald Trump the destroyer is churning toward Hillary Clinton, the last 2016 establishment candidate.

27/04/2016 2:49 PM AEST | Updated 27/04/2016 2:50 PM AEST

PHILADELPHIA -- The thing to realize is this: The human wrecking ball called Donald Trump is swinging in an ever-wider arc.

The next edifice in his destructive path is the Clinton family, which has been a core symbol and central structure of the Democratic Party and Washington as a whole since 1992.

Yes, Trump’s “numbers” are bad -- in fact, the worst of any major presidential candidate in modern times. Right now, he is reviled and feared by most minorities, women generally and, in the aggregate, the American people.

But in an era of mass disgust with politics, Washington, Congress and the federal government, Hillary Clinton stands exposed as the last representative of politics as it was.

This is grossly unfair, because a woman winning the presidency would be as revolutionary as anything that has happened since, well, Barack Obama’s election in 2008.

But timing is everything in campaigns and in politics, and once again -- as it was in 2008 -- Clinton may be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It wasn’t that long ago that TV viewers flocked to a show, “The West Wing,” that offered respect to the White House -- the traditional view that had survived for a while, even after Richard Nixon ruined it for a generation.

But, today, the two most popular depictions of the pinnacle of elected power in America are “Veep” and “House of Cards," which portray the president either as a foul-mouthed cynic or a murderer bent on one-man dictatorial rule.

Now comes reality show star Trump, who has destroyed presidential campaigning as we thought we knew it. And there is no reason to think that he’s done with his work.

Here in Philadelphia, I got news of the early returns at the MSNBC set in the Red Owl Tavern, almost directly across the street from the sacred ground of Independence Hall.

In that magnificent building, more than two centuries ago, the classically educated Founding Fathers delved deeply, seriously, with great erudition and eloquence, into the most profound issues of self government, justice and freedom.

And Tuesday night, it was Pennsylvania that gave Trump perhaps his biggest and most important victory of the night.

Here is a summary of the man and the methods that were victorious.

He has ignored every rule of decorum and decency in political discourse -- even admitting what a low bar that is. In his victory statement Tuesday night, he came out with this crudity: “If Hillary were a man, she wouldn’t get 5 percent.

It was sad -- not amusing -- to watch network anchors try to parse this language without losing their own sense of decency. But parse they did.

Trump has no compunction about using blunt, uncoded, racial -- even racist -- language about Mexicans, Muslims and women. 

But by repeating, rather than abandoning, most of that language, he has dragged down the level of public discourse to the point where everyone’s senses can get dulled.

He is proud of his own ignorance, and many of his supporters like him for that very reason. They interpret his lack of knowledge not as a handicap, but as an asset: It means that he hasn’t been corrupted by politics or the facts.

He has done little paid advertising, instead relying on billions of dollars worth of “free media” news coverage. “There has never been anything like it,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor of political communications at the University of Pennsylvania. “He gets it all for free because he knows how to get your attention.”

He has no campaign structure to speak of -- the “structure” mostly consisting of what he thinks and feels and tweets. 

His lack of detailed issue positions has, paradoxically, freed him from scrutiny of whatever substance there happens to be. All reporters can do is point out this deficiency -- but there are only so many times they can repeat it.

Shrewd and almost feral in his sense of the weakness of other public figures -- the legacy of a lifetime of being a controversial public figure in Manhattan and a TV star -- he has made the process of attack his message as well as his method.

Twitter is the perfect vehicle, and 140 characters the perfect length. That, too, limits scrutiny of substance and sharpens (because that is what Twitter encourages) his attacks.

“How can you analyze tweets?” Jamieson asked in frustration. “In the past, I studied political debates and ads and the fine details of political rhetoric. With Trump, it’s impossible.”

But none of this means that Trump would be an easy mark for Clinton. It could be just the opposite.

If there is a Clinton-Trump contest, it will surely be the nastiest and most negative presidential race in decades, and even centuries.

Whatever the Electoral College map might show, that kind of election is Trump territory.

Editor's note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.

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