Paul Krugman talks about the rise of Donald Trump in the polls -- and the oh-so-surprised media response to his popularity in the Republicans party:
What I would argue is key to this situation — and, in particular, key to understanding how the conventional wisdom on Trump/McCain went so wrong — is the reality that a lot of people are, in effect, members of a delusional cult that is impervious to logic and evidence, and has lost touch with reality.
I am, of course, talking about pundits who prize themselves for their centrism.
Pundit centrism in modern America is a strange thing. It’s not about policy, as you can see from the many occasions when members of the cult have demanded that Barack Obama change his ways and advocate things that … he was already advocating. What defines the cult is, instead, the insistence that the parties are symmetric, that they are equally extreme, and that the responsible, virtuous position is always somewhere in between.
The trouble is that this isn’t remotely true. Democrats constitute a normal political party, with some spread between its left and right wings, but in general espousing moderate positions. The GOP, on the other hand, is a deeply radical faction; even its supposed moderates are moderate only in tone, not in policy positions, and its base is motivated by anger against Others.
What this means, in turn, is that to sustain their self-image centrists must misrepresent reality.
On one side, they can’t admit the moderation of the Democrats, which is why you had the spectacle of demands that Obama change course and support his own policies.
On the other side, they have had to invent an imaginary GOP that bears little resemblance to the real thing. This means being continually surprised by the radicalism of the base. It also means a determination to see various Republicans as Serious, Honest Conservatives — SHCs? — whom the centrists know, just know, have to exist.
We saw this a lot in the cult of Paul Ryan, who was and is very obviously a con man, whose numbers have never added up, but who was nonetheless treated with vast respect — and still sometimes is.
But the ur-SHC is John McCain, the Straight-Talking Maverick. Never mind that he is clearly eager to wage as many wars as possible, that he has long since abandoned his once-realistic positions on climate change and immigration, that he tried to put Sarah Palin a heartbeat from the presidency. McCain the myth is who they see, and keep putting on TV. And they imagined that everyone else must see him the same way, that Trump’s sneering at his war record would cause everyone to turn away in disgust.
But the Republican base isn’t eager to hear from SHCs; it has never put McCain on a pedestal; and people who like Donald Trump are not exactly likely to be scared off by his lack of decorum.
For what it’s worth, I still don’t expect The Donald to win the nomination; the big money will presumably coalesce around someone — though given Jeb’s foot-in-mouth performance it’s hard to see who — and will probably squeeze him out in the end. But the story so far has been a remarkable illustration of how little many professional political pundits seem to understand.
I'll just mention in passing that Jonathan Chait (with whom I often disagree) pretty much nailed it with this piece the other day:
But Trump has outdone him not just in celebrity appeal, but in calculated offensiveness. Trump’s crude denunciation of Mexican immigrants as criminals made him the symbol of Republican nativism in the Latino community, yet this only enhanced his appeal. The most staggering indicator of his success to date is not that he has maintained his polling lead. It is that opposition among Republican voters has actually decreased. A month ago 59 percent of likely Republican voters said they would never vote for Trump. That has fallen to one third. The attacks on Trump have actually backfired.
The amorphous fervor of the right-wing base has stumped liberals as well as conservatives. Outsiders have struggled to comprehend how Republican voters can attach themselves to an economic agenda so plainly at odds with their own interest, or whip themselves into a frenzy over a manufactured outrage (whether it is Elián González, ACORN, death panels, or the legitimacy of Obama’s birth). Trump embodies that mysterious X factor that has eluded analysts of all sides. His affect supplies his appeal — he is strong, mad, and, above all, unapologetic in a world that demands he apologize. Trump is not the spokesman for an idea at all, but the representation of undifferentiated resentment.
And because people love his tone and ignore what he says, it makes him dangerous.