The parallel universe of Donald J. Trump

There has not been anyone quite like Donald Trump in a presidential campaign before.

Within days of the launch of Donald J. Trump's presidential campaign last June, he entered a parallel universe of his unique creation – a universe with its own gravity and physics, where the normal laws of political thermodynamics do not apply.  

It was funny at first – a joke! – but it became deadly serious very quickly. Trump could viciously critici​se Senator John McCain, a Vietnam war hero who was mercilessly tortured in Hanoi – and emerge unscathed by the anger of Republicans and patriots.  

Photo-illustration by Sam Bennett.
Photo-illustration by Sam Bennett. 

He could slur Muslims, demean Hispanics as rapists and drug runners and threaten millions of immigrants with deportation, denigrate women in appearance and physiology, belittle his opponents with cruel characterisations ("Lying Ted Cruz", "Little Marco"), attack Dr Ben Carson as having a serious mental illness, and establish a new nadir of vulgarity and incivility in what was billed as a Republican presidential debate.  

That night set a new low in modern American politics; everyone needed a shower afterwards. In the parallel universe of Donald J. Trump, atrocities can occur without any implosion. 

Imagine if Barack Obama, African American freshman Senator, had addressed a rally in 2008 and said, "I want to punch that guy in the face," or if he had said that, if he was denied the nomination, there would be riots at the convention as a result of his supporters being frustrated. What do you think would have happened to Barack Obama's candidacy at that point? "Uppity" would have been the first word in the epithet and his half-life as a nominee for president would have been extinguished.

There has not been anyone quite like Trump in a presidential campaign.


There is in Trump a bit of Huey Long, the Louisiana populist who played on anger during the Depression and led an uprising against the New Deal for not taking care of the poor working classes; a touch of Joe McCarthy, the vicious anti-communist; a bit of George Wallace, the segregationist Alabama governor; and some of Barry Goldwater, the libertarian conservative insurgent.

It is these strands in a persona so narcissistic and ​megalomaniac, so out of control, that is presenting the Republican Party with its most existential crisis ever –  terrifying a party leadership that believed that it not only had the richest field of credible contenders but a massive chance of recapturing the White House after "eight failed years of Barack Obama".

Never before have the pillars of the conservative intelligentsia – George Will, Michael Gerson, David Brooks, Bill Kristol, the editors of National Review – been so united in their revulsion at a candidate who, they collectively believe, will destroy the Republican Party – and turn the country over to the Democrats.

Indeed, it was Marco Rubio, the Cuban American Senator from Florida, who the Democrats feared most. Younger, extremely articulate, with a powerful narrative on national security, and with cross-cultural appeal – exactly the ​antidote for a party that could not connect with Latinos in the past two presidential cycles – who would transform the party and ensure its future.  But the Ides of March this week were cruel; Rubio was defenseless in own state against the angry rabble of working class white voters that Trump has roused.

All of which leaves Hillary Clinton and the Democrats with quiet confidence but some deep concerns about the Trump wild card. In the normal political universe, Trump's extremism and fundamental unfitness for office should result in a resounding defeat for Republicans, and threaten their majorities in Congress as well.  

Given America's evolving demographics as the country inexorably moves towards being a majority-minority nation, with more than 50 per cent of the population being non-white, Trump will need more of the white vote than even Mitt Romney received four years ago.  And not even Romney believes that is possible – particularly if Republicans who love their party stay home in protest.

But in the back of the minds of many in Washington is this: if there is, say, a horrific attack on the homeland in September or October, might the demagogue inflame fears to such an extent that the country ​clamours for the Big Man theory of history in seeking vengeance and security?

Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. She has been strengthened by the primary campaign against Bernie Sanders. Many in Washington believed she could not come back – and she nailed it last Tuesday.  

She is now a better candidate. Sanders has driven the party to the left on economic issues; mission accomplished. And Clinton is beginning to benefit from a dividend from Trump's parallel universe: that if the Republicans are going over the cliff in an orgy of radical extremism – then America surely needs the most experienced, capable, responsible, and measured person to lead.  At least, that's the hope.

Bruce Wolpe was on the Democratic staff in Congress in President Obama's first term. He is a supporter of Hillary Clinton's campaign.