When the movie is made of Donald Trump’s crusade for president, cinephiles will have the feeling they’ve seen this show before.
A lot of times in fact. The plot’s a staple: rootless stranger blows into town and turns heads and hearts, He’s dangerous and alive; he makes local gals look on their feckless sweethearts with contempt. Maybe they call him Shane, maybe Clyde Barrow. This could all end badly, but these parts will never be the same.
Let’s not pass judgment here on Trump’s emotional stability. And let’s not pass judgment on the alt-right, on the bullies and brayers who thunder malice from the cheap seats at Trump rallies. Let’s simply acknowledge their passion, and give Trump credit for setting it free. He located the, well, the heaving bodice that the core constituency of the Republican Party has turned out to be.
You watched the Republican debates. If Trump appalled you, who did you like instead? Trump dominated a huge field because the others were stiffs. Republicans dignitaries need to be honest: they might be horrified by who wound up as their nominee, but nobody can argue a giant of statecraft slipped though their fingers. The curse of the Republican Party as 2016 dawned was that although it dominated American politics it was dominated by empty suits all reciting the same social and economic catechism they pretentiously called ideas. When Trump made Republicans look at these people twice, it was astonishing how redundant and mediocre they all seemed to be.
And look at their leaders in Congress. Is Mitch McConnell an interesting person? Is Paul Ryan? Does either quicken your pulse? And what about the statehouses? Does Scott Walker push your buttons? How about Kansas’s zany Sam Brownback or our own Bruce Rauner, exuding testosterone as if it were the last quarter-inch of caked toothpaste?
Then Trump came along. What he did—and what he knows they know he did—was cuckold the lot of them. Republicans who hadn’t realized the extent to which they were bored silly by their leaders went crazy with desire. Donald Trump boasted and trash-talked! He did bad things and bragged about them! He sneered at the catechism. He was dangerous! And Republicans responded, take me! Dignitaries like Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz who thought the debates were going to be all about themselves woke up in the morning to empty beds.
Whether they’ve paid lip service to Trump’s candidacy or refused to endorse it, leading Republicans have reacted in the classic fashion of cuckolds through the ages: too dumbfounded and self-pitying to fight back, they desperately pray their rival will overplay his hand and their lost love come to her senses. The problem with this strategy is that the lost love already has. Republican top dogs like Ryan and McConnell might be telling themselves these movies end with the faithless ex coming to her senses and begging forgiveness. Let me remind them of a couple of other possibilities. The girl chooses a short, ardent life over a long and boring one so she runs away with the stranger even though he’s doomed and they’re immolated side by side. (Think Bonnie and Clyde.) Or she glumly returns to the life she now despises and gets as soon as the getting’s good. Perhaps murder is considered. (Think Double Indemnity.)
Neither possibility augers well for the cuckold.
On the left, there’s a lot of worry that a resounding Trump defeat in November will sic the rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem to pick up the pace. Maybe it won’t be that bad. Instead of becoming even more alienated, maybe Trump voters will feel America’s finally had an election that was about them and they’ve still got a place in this country after all. Next time, they might tell themselves, we need to grow up a little and find someone more credible to speak for us.
Which wouldn’t be the same old faces who thought they owned the party before Trump. If GOP party leaders are telling themselves an overwhelming defeat in November will jerk straying Trump Republicans back into the fold, I don’t think romance works this way. Once you’ve cheated and been glad you did, there’s no going back. Maybe the poor sap you blew off will decide to forgive you for not staying true, but why should you care whether he does or not?