To celebrate his Super Tuesday sweep, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald J. Trump sought to appear presidential. In lieu of the standard victory speech, he staged a press conference on March 1 in the opulent ballroom of his Mar-a-Lago resort, in which he called on journalists by name, just as the president does. But to make clear his conception of a Trump presidency, he also used the occasion to threaten the speaker of the House.
Earlier in the day, Speaker Paul Ryan condemned Trump’s reluctance to disavow the support of David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, and the support Trump has enjoyed among white supremacists.
When asked at his news conference how, as president, he would find a way to work with Congress, given Ryan’s comments, Trump replied: “Paul Ryan, I don’t know him well, but I’m sure I’m going to get along great with him. And if I don’t, he’s going to have to pay a big price.”
He did not elaborate on the nature of the price. The threat, however, carried the essence of Trump’s motivation and, alas, his appeal: the destruction of the democratic process. After all, what has all that democracy wrought? A black president, for starters. So, the thinking seems to go (if there is thinking involved at all) use the electoral part of the democratic process, hampered as it is by voter-ID laws and other barriers to voting by non-white people, to get Trump through the White House door, then kiss the inconvenient parts of the process good-bye.
Those who support Trump are sick of that mess laid out in the Constitution of the United States, what with its checks and balances on executive power. As long as the president is the same hue as you, and loathes whom you loathe, why not just let him smash up those other two branches of government?
Earlier in the day, Trump’s Secret Service detail oversaw the removal by law enforcement of some 30 black students from the Valdosta State University venue in Georgia, where the candidate was staging a rally—before the event even started. And a Secret Service agent slammed a Time magazine photographer to the ground in a chokehold when the journalist tried to exit the media pen at a Virginia Trump rally in order to document a Black Lives Matter protest that took place at the event. With such loyal, gun-toting enforcers on the government payroll, the specter of a Trump presidency grows more ominous.
Trump went on to win the nominating contests in seven of the ten states up for grabs in the Super Tuesday tournament. As he racks up a delegate count far ahead of those of his closest rivals—Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida—it becomes more difficult to imagine a scenario in which Trump could be stopped in his march to the nomination.
Among many liberals, there’s a sense that this is ultimately a good thing, at least as it augurs for the success of the Democratic nominee in November. They likely take heart in seeing national surveys, such as the CNN/ORC poll released on Monday that shows either former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont beating Trump handily in a general election match-up. But dig a little deeper, and you find that support for Clinton weakens were her opponent to be either Cruz or Rubio. And given Clinton’s own Super Tuesday sweep, she is ever more likely to be the Democratic nominee, even though the same poll shows Sanders trouncing either Cruz or Rubio in a general election head-to-head.
Such national polls at this stage in a presidential race are of limited value; voter sentiment is likely to change by November and, more importantly, the outcome of a U.S. presidential election is not determined by popular vote. Yet, even with her current polling advantage over Trump, Clinton’s weakness when matched against Cruz or Rubio is troubling. Once those two Republican contenders are removed from the equation, where are their supporters likely to turn? Perhaps to Donald Trump.
And while Speaker Ryan may purse his lips at the utterances of his party’s bombastic and bigoted frontrunner, he’s yet to say he wouldn’t support Trump if he won the nomination. As The New York Times’s Jennifer Steinhauer wrote, “The inherent paradox of renouncing a candidate you also provisionally support was raised Tuesday to near contortionist levels.”
Beyond the possibility of a Trump presidency, though, lies perhaps an even greater problem. Win or lose, Trump has unleashed a beast that has long lived in limited captivity amid the American electorate. Outward expression of contempt for those one resents—whether through epithets, violence, or mere coarseness—is no longer a pursuit reserved for those on the fringe of American politics. It’s gone mainstream, thanks to Trump, each baldly stated prejudice now packaged as a legitimate political position. Liberals and progressives had best be thinking strategically about how to deal with the aftermath of a Trump candidacy. Whether he wins or loses, it’s going to be ugly.