I hope Donald Trump runs for president forever.
He has proved an indispensable component of the 2016 GOP primary race, and he needs to stick around so his singular contributions can continue.
At this point in Trump’s quixotic quest for the Oval Office, most Americans have come to regard him as the worthless piece of excrement he has always been—the shameless blowhard with a comical lack of self-awareness and the emotional maturity of an infant.
Fair enough, but this assumption all-too-casually overlooks the role he has swiftly and boldly assumed amid the dizzying Republican fracas that has been puttering around the early primary states these last several months.
New York Times columnist Charles Blow recently proclaimed Trump “exactly what the Republican Party deserves.” But he is also—for some of the same reasons—the candidate the GOP needs.
In an environment of chaos, Donald Trump is the great clarifier. He is a big, fat Republican ink blot that allows us to see exactly where everyone stands—how each of his co-candidates truly feels about the issues he is all-too-willing to broach.
Let us begin at the beginning. In announcing his candidacy for president, Trump (in)famously tarred the entire Mexican immigrant population as murderous, drug-smuggling rapists. (He then charitably added, “Some, I assume, are good people.”)
OK, then. This is the kind of mindless xenophobia the GOP has espoused for years, albeit previously in a more restrained and respectful manner. But now that Trump, lacking the capacity for restraint or respect, has taken the liberty of getting right to the point, we are able to see—more clearly than we otherwise would—how every other candidate views the immigration question writ large.
Generally speaking, when a public figure asserts—without evidence—that the majority of immigrants from a friendly, neighboring country are effectively the scum of the Earth, the correct response is either to ignore that person entirely or to call him out for his ignorance.
After some prodding, a handful of Trump’s competitors did exactly that. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush called the comments “extraordinarily ugly” and Trump “wrong” to make them. Florida senator Marco Rubio characterized the rant as “offensive,” “inaccurate” and “divisive.” South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham called it “hurtful and not helpful.”
However, an equal number of declared candidates have opted for Door No. 3: Tacitly agree with the premise of Trump’s blather. Texas senator Ted Cruz took the opportunity to croon about how much he admires Trump as a person, as did New Jersey governor Chris Christie. While Christie responded that he was “not personally offended” by the ramblings in question, Cruz went so far as to “salute” Trump for “focusing on the need to address illegal immigration”—a sentiment echoed almost word-for-word by former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.
In other words: Never mind the fact that Mexican immigrants aren’t all dangerous criminals coming to prey on our women. The point is that illegal immigration is important to talk about, so why quibble over the details?
It’s an appalling way to think, not to mention lazy and dishonest. It would be like Bernie Sanders asserting that investment bankers were forming gangs and ripping off liquor stores, followed by Hillary Clinton defending him by saying, “The important thing is that he has addressed the need to exercise greater oversight of the big banks.”
But I digress. The point, in any case, is that Republican primary voters are much more informed about what’s going on in the heads of their ballot choices, and all because Donald Trump said something ridiculous. Indeed, I know more than a few registered voters for whom the sentence, “I like Donald; he’s a good guy” is all the information they need about whether to ever vote for Chris Christie.
If this long, long pre-primaries period of presidential preening serves any purpose at all, it’s to allow us to cross-examine our commander-in-chief wannabees in a more freewheeling environment than in the tense, over-scripted final leg. While there are billions of opportunities during this time for anybody to ask any candidate anything—some of which make the evening news or go viral on YouTube—there is an added power to moments (not least the debates) when a party’s banner-carriers are confronted directly and simultaneously by the logic (or illogic) of their core policies.
So long as Trump remains in the race—and why on Earth wouldn’t he?—we will see this happen over and over again. The man himself is in no immediate danger of suddenly learning basic table manners, and our infantile media are more than happy to indulge him. Then there’s the matter of the opinion polls, in which he currently ranks in the top two.
Which means the Donald will continue to be the yardstick against which all the other candidates are forced to measure themselves with respect to their party’s identity. Elections are in large part a test of character, and Trump—a character in his own right—may prove the most grueling test of all. If his insane ideas about immigration—and, more recently, about what it means to be a war hero—demonstrate real staying power among GOP primary voters, what do the remaining competitors have to gain by condemning such ideas as the lunacy that they are?
Their integrity, for one. Indeed, many voters have a soft spot for basic human decency in the heat of a high-stakes election. We’re certainly not gonna get any from Trump, but he may well inspire it in others. As has been so richly demonstrated in light of his maligning of Senator John McCain, it is not terribly difficult to assume the moral high ground when the maestro of the “Miss Universe” show is the only other man in the room.
His more even-tempered counterparts would do well to mine the anti-Trump vote for all it’s worth, as it is certain to be worth plenty. After all, a man can only insult and belittle so many of his fellow Americans before there aren’t any left to vote for him.
Here is one Republican billionaire today’s candidates can afford to give a pass.