On the Democratic side, the argument is about a theory of change: Voters really do care about progressive priorities, and they are torn between two candidates who broadly have similar ideologies, but different visions of the politically possible.
What we’re seeing on the Republican side, by contrast, is that almost nobody except a handful of pundits and think-tank hired guns cares at all about the official party ideology.
Remember when the conservative commentator Bill Kristol predicted last year that Republican candidate Donald Trump’s support would collapse because he declared that he would protect Social Security and Medicare? Surprise: There are virtually no sincere small-government types out in the real world. Wealthy donors want tax cuts, and this may indirectly lead them to support cuts to social insurance programs to free up the funds. But people who actually care about the government spending too much in general (as opposed to spending too much on Those People)? There’s no such constituency.
And what about moral values and personal responsibility? This week Jerry Falwell Jr. endorsed the multiply married, philandering, not visibly God-fearing Mr. Trump for the nomination. How is that possible? Greg Sargent at The Washington Post says that evangelicals are driven by fear of the collapse of society as they know it. And that’s certainly consistent with what we’re seeing.
But I’d push the argument a bit further: What’s really going on is (justified) fear over the erosion of white patriarchy. That is, it’s about authority, not virtue.
So Mr. Trump’s lifestyle and “New York values” don’t matter, as long as he’s seen as someone who will keep the Others in their place.
What used to happen was that the conservative movement could basically serve the plutocracy, while mobilizing voters with race and gender anxieties, all the while maintaining a facade of serious-minded libertarian philosophy. But now that has all broken down, and the party’s real motives are out in the open.
How to Make Donald Trump President
Step 1: Democrats nominate Bernie Sanders. I don’t think Mr. Sanders is unelectable, but when you look at the polling, remember that Hillary Clinton’s numbers reflect her standing after more than two decades of constant character assassination, whereas Republicans haven’t even begun to go after him.
Step 2: Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg decides to save the country by entering the race as a supposed alternative to the extremes in each party. Centrist pundits have been urging him to do this forever, even when President Obama was pursuing all their favored policies.
Step 3: Some Democrats defect to Mr. Bloomberg because they actually listen to those centrist pundits. Hardly any Republicans do - remember, two-thirds of them currently support Mr. Trump, Ted Cruz or Ben Carson, and, anyway, they’ve never heard of Mr. Bloomberg. Also, New York values.
Step 4: Mr. Trump wins a yuuuuge victory.