But the capitulation began long before Trump’s rise. The so-called establishment tolerated, and often encouraged, the wildest of conspiracy charges, from allegations that Bill Clinton was responsible for the death of family friend Vince Foster (who tragically committed suicide) to claims that Obama is a secret Muslim.
The difference with Trump is that he has never pretended to respectability. He has been willing to get down there with the conspiracy peddlers and proudly claim that he is one of them. He is the real real America.
Accompanying all this has been an ersatz anti-elitism, with Republicans who champion tax cuts for the wealthy insisting they are the authentic voices of the working class because they love guns, hate political correctness, and love country music.
Trump outdid the party leadership on that front, too, and the absurd logic of this chicken-fried Marxism was reached on Tuesday night when the proletarian Donald Trump Jr. denounced “a special class of crony elites at the top of the heap.” The word “chutzpah” will be retired when this campaign ends.
Now Trump will try to play the game in which Ryan and McConnell are the pros and take another stab at looking presidential. It’s said Trump has been studying Richard Nixon’s law-and-order rhetoric, and Nixon’s 1968 acceptance speech is, indeed, a model of how to translate the gut anger of a large swath of voters into a kind of lyricism.
But for all his faults, Nixon had public purposes and a nuanced worldview. Politics has deteriorated since his time. Trumpism is an ideological wasteland where anger is the only point and winning is the only objective. Here in Cleveland, we have seen what the wasteland looks like.