a bitter melon

Trump wins the Republican nomination

On Wednesday Trump was nominated as the Republican candidate for the US presidential elections in November:

Reuters -- Beating rivals and the odds, Trump captures Republican nomination (Jul 20, 2016)

Trump won with 1,725 delegates, followed by U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas with 475 delegates, Ohio Governor John Kasich with 120 and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida with 114. Three other candidates emerged with a total of 12 delegates.

Trump's success is as hard to explain as it was to predict. Thirteen months ago, the Wall Street Journal judged his path to the nomination "difficult" while noting his low appeal in national polls:

The Washington Post -- Donald Trump will declare $9 billion in assets as he reveals 2016 plans (Jun 15, 2015)

Still, Trump’s path to the nomination would be difficult. Many Republicans, especially in the upper ranks of the GOP, see him as a celebrity bomb-thrower and provocateur who has flirted with “birtherism” and made other remarks casting doubt on President Obama’s credentials and his love of the country. Trump runs at the lower end of the pack of a large potential set of Republican candidates, ranging from 3 to 5 percent support in national public polls.

Then two months later The Guardian dedicated a 2,000 word article to a patient explanation why Trump would not win the nomination -- at least according to "more-knowledgable people":

The Guardian -- Here's why Donald Trump won't win the Republican presidential nomination (Aug 22, 2015)

But can Donald Trump really win the 2016 Republican presidential nomination?

Knowledgable people think he might. They include some journalists, some former Republican consultants and operatives, talk show host Bill Maher and a contestant from season three of NBC’s The Apprentice, who now is co-chairperson of Trump’s Iowa operation.

But more-knowledgable people think he won’t. They include the quants and geeks, some Republican consultants and operatives, and lots of political scientists.

Around the same time, August 2015, John Kass at the Chicago Tribune wrote this flippant piece, drawing on comic books and cheesy martial arts movies to predict the demise of the Trump campaign:

Chicago Tribune -- Death blow from Fox News' Megyn Kelly already taking effect on Trump (Aug 9, 2015)

There is no cure for the Touch of Death, or Dim Mak as it's known in those cheesy martial arts movies.

Legend and comic books tell us that it is a precise and forceful strike, with delayed yet fatal result, sometimes taking days or weeks to do its work. [...]

That's what happened to Donald Trump's presidential campaign, which received the Touch of Death from Megyn Kelly, the warrior priestess of Fox News.

In December 2015, right wing talk radio demagogue Glenn Beck predicted that a Trump nomination would mean the end of the Republican party (in fairness that is still a real possibility):

MediaMatters -- Glenn Beck: If GOP Nominates Donald Trump, It Will Bring "An End To The Republican Party" (Dec 16, 2015)

If they put Donald Trump in, try to put him in office, if that's what the people want, you are going to see an end to the Republican Party. It will just be over, there'll just be nothing left

While Fox News anchor Shep Smith denounced Trump as a "carnival huckster":

BusinessInsider -- Fox's Shepard Smith torches Donald Trump's plan: 'The worst, darkest part of all that is America' (Dec 8, 2015)

"A lot more need to be led by somebody, not to be dragged down the wormhole by some carnival huckster," Smith said of the public. "Somebody needs come up and remind them what this nation is and what we're about and how we dream, the way we were founded, and what our Constitution is. He's not representing any of that. He's representing the worst, darkest part of all that is America."

In short:

The question is why Trump prevailed under these conditions. Jonathan Chait at the NY Mag self-medicates on the soothing soporific that "voters are idiots":

NY Mag -- Here’s the Real Reason Everybody Thought Trump Would Lose (May 11, 2016)

Why did almost everybody fail to predict Donald Trump’s victory in the Republican primaries? Nate Silver blames the news media, disorganized Republican elites, and the surprising appeal of cultural grievance. Nate Cohn lists a number of factors, from the unusually large candidate field to the friendly calendar. Jim Rutenberg thinks journalism strayed too far from good old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting. Justin Wolfers zeroes in on Condorcet’s paradox. Here’s the factor I think everybody missed: The Republican Party turns out to be filled with idiots. Far more of them than anybody expected.

John McQuaid at Forbes tries to sweeten Chait's medicine -- but then just throws everything against the wall in the hope that something will stick:

Forbes -- Did Donald Trump Win The Nomination Because Republican Voters Are Dumb? (May 12, 2016)

There are many reasons: for starters, the party agenda dates back 30 years, is broadly unpopular, and is set by a constellation of interest groups that have taken the genuine interests of the GOP base for granted. The familiar codes and phrases of past campaigns stopped resonating. And so, wham, here we are.

Perhaps it is beside the point to seek a purely rational explanation for Trump's success. Perhaps in a sense his appeal actively resists rational analysis, in so far as it draws on tribal feelings of belonging and a more-or-less willed faith in the power of panache. After all we are told that fortune favors the bold.

Perhaps Trump's blatant disregard for facts and his reckless demagoguery appeal to a kind of magical thinking that resents the modern "disenchantment of the world" along with the ever-growing, never-ending responsibilities that entails. The Trump response is to stage a loud and garish assault on reality itself and call it "branding". As in his announcement speech in June 2015:

Time -- Here’s Donald Trump’s Presidential Announcement Speech (Jun 16, 2015)

But [Obama] wasn’t a cheerleader. He’s actually a negative force. He’s been a negative force. He wasn’t a cheerleader; he was the opposite.

We need somebody that can take the brand of the United States and make it great again.