Donald Trump ascended the dais on Thursday night as the most improbable of Republican presidential nominees.
What historical shift, what tremors in American culture, yielded up Mr. Trump’s moment from the depths of the national id? How did a braggadocious Manhattan billionaire with a history of dodgy business deals convince 13 million people feeling battered by a changing world that he is their solution? Chutzpah, reality TV and a hyperactive Twitter account are part of the answer. But Mr. Trump’s nomination is also a referendum on the Republican Party, delivered by working people fed up with leaders who want their votes but don’t address their struggles.
Given a chance to replace the empty sloganeering and self-aggrandizement of his primary campaign with solid proposals worthy of Americans’ trust, Mr. Trump made clear that he instead intends to terrify voters into supporting him, who will protect them from violence, a word that occurs over and over in his remarks.
Asserting that his nomination comes at a moment of national crisis, of “poverty and violence at home, war and destruction abroad,” Mr. Trump offered no solutions beyond his messianic portrayal of himself. “Every day I wake up determined to deliver a better life for the people all across this nation that have been neglected, ignored, and abandoned,” he says in advance excerpts from his speech.
The dark vision of America advanced by Mr. Trump is one in which immigrants, including immigrant families, are prime sources of “violence in our streets and the chaos in our communities.” Abroad, America is a disrespected, humiliated nation.
This is not only factually false, it’s a wildly distorted view of all the nation stands for. One would think that if Mr. Trump believed this dystopia existed, he would have a clear and detailed plan for change. But, as always, he has only his empty sales pitch to offer — “I’m with you, I will fight for you, and I will win for you,” he says.
Mr. Trump trounced 16 rivals and won 37 states by crude, boastful force. Refusing ever to acknowledge error, he has aimed to “knock the hell” out of all who rejected his vision of an America made great again, denying inconvenient facts or inventing convenient ones.
The more he was dismissed by Republican politicians, the more he fired up voters angered by the same treatment. In the end virtually nobody in active Republican leadership stood up to him. He dispatched Jeb Bush, scion of the party’s old guard, early on. When the House speaker, Paul Ryan, didn’t immediately endorse Mr. Trump, he lashed out, saying that Mr. Ryan was “not ready” to support his big-think agenda. Soon after, Mr. Ryan crumpled, and now, almost daily, he offers weak defenses of Mr. Trump’s ideas and conduct.
Ted Cruz, Mr. Trump’s chief primary rival, has emerged as one of the few Republicans to look beyond this political cycle, consider his own honor, and refuse to truckle to the nominee. Mr. Trump savaged Mr. Cruz during the primaries, sowing doubts about his citizenship, encouraging misogynistic attacks on his wife, and implying that his father was involved in John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Mr. Cruz used his prime-time convention speaking slot on Wednesday to exact revenge, speaking for more than 20 minutes without endorsing Mr. Trump, while the candidate stewed.
It was doubtless a calculated move on Mr. Cruz’s part, but it was refreshing to see Mr. Trump at last reap some consequences for his vile tactics.
The consequences for the Republican Party still lie ahead. Mr. Trump emerged as a political force with the racist claim that President Obama was not born in the United States. He has since sought advantage by playing to disaffected people’s worst instincts, inventing scapegoats and conspiracy theories, waging and inciting vicious attacks on those who disagree with him. He is a poisonous messenger for a legitimate demand: that an ossified party dedicate itself to improving working people’s lives, instead of serving the elite.