With voters set to reject their nominee, Republicans could lose control of Congress, ushering in a progressive era
For much of the past year, Donald Trump had lived something of a charmed political life.
Sure, he scapegoated Mexican immigrants and Muslims (not some, but all). He lobbed crude insults at a female journalist and one with a disability. He attacked his opponents with monikers such as Lyin Ted and Little Marco, mocked Jeb Bush for being low energy and compared Ben Carson to a child molester. He even went after previous Republican presidential nominees, including 2008 nominee John McCain, who he said was no war hero because the North Vietnamese captured him. And he demonstrated, repeatedly, that he was immensely unqualified for the job of president of United States.
Yet none of it seemed to matter to Republican voters. Trumps poll numbers steadily increased, his primary and caucus victories steadily piled up and one Republican opponent after another fell by the wayside, unable to stop him. Even recent polls showed him neck and neck with the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.
But last week, when Trump launched a vicious and nakedly racist attack against Gonzalo Curiel, the judge in his Trump University fraud case, the halo around Trump began to crack and it offered a useful reminder as to why Trump has practically no chance of winning the presidency. Quite simply, the Republican electorate looks nothing like the rest of the American electorate.
Trumps broadsides against Judge Curiel certainly crossed a line. The presumptive GOP nominee suggested that the judges bad decisions against him were not the result of Curiels interpretation of the law, but rather because, as Trump put it, hes a Mexican (Curiel was born in Indiana). Since Trump has a harsh view of illegal immigration from Mexico, Trump alleged that Curiels ethnic heritage made it impossible for him to offer unbiased judgments on Trumps case. This is, as even Republicans have pointed out, the textbook definition of racism.
Trump also intimated that Curiel should be investigated and that if he wins the White House he might even retaliate against the judge directly. That he is openly attacking the federal judiciary, as he runs for an office with the responsibility of appointing federal judges, represents a fundamental disrespect for the rule of the law and raises legitimate issues as to whether Trump, as president, would enforce court orders with which he disagrees.
Still, its hard to see how Trumps comments about Curiel were any worse than his earlier comments about Mexican criminals or his proposed Muslim ban. They practically pale next to his sinister pledge to investigate Amazon, because its CEO also owns the Washington Post and Trump has been unhappy with some of that papers coverage of him. In the American constitutional system, this would be an impeachable offence.
What has changed is that Trump has shifted his attacks from foreign targets to actual American citizens, making it harder for even Republicans to defend them. Moreover, the context in which they were delivered was completely different. During the Republican primaries, GOP voters were not much concerned about Trumps xenophobic and bigoted attacks. All of his fellow presidential aspirants were calling for Syrian Muslims to be banned from entering the US, regularly railed against illegal immigration and more than a few implicitly called for the US to commit war crimes in its fight against the Islamic State. Trump just went a step further and theres significant evidence that they helped him among the Republican rank and file.
But today, Trump is not battling for support among Republican voters hes trying to win over Democrats and independents. Rather than facing opponents who were largely unbothered by Trumps bigotry, hes now in a fight against Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party. They have a very different view on these matters.
This, in a nutshell, is Trumps problem: to win the Republican nomination he needed to take extreme positions on a host of issues. He needed to demonise illegal immigration. That strategy doesnt work among non-Republican voters. Indeed, for all the concerns raised by liberals about the possibility that Trump could win, less attention has been paid to the fact that Trump is a uniquely unpopular figure strongly disliked by Democrats, independents and even many Republicans.