Whom Will You Blame for President Trump?

Donald Trump Holds Campaign Rally In NH After Iowa Caucuses
Number 45? Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Donald Trump just won Nevada by 22 points. He had already scored landslide victories in South Carolina and New Hampshire, and polls of the 12 Super Tuesday primaries show the Donald on pace to win at least nine. The reality star turned right-wing demagogue is now the overwhelming favorite to win the Republican nomination. From there, all it could take is one ill-timed recession or terrorist attack for a proto-fascist insult comic to become the leader of the free world.

So, now is a good time to figure out who you’re going to blame when the White House gets a gaudy, gold-plated makeover next January. Here is a list of potential scapegoats:

1. Barack Obama

Even by “thanks, Obama” standards this seems like a stretch. But if you’re a conservative, you probably want to consider this option since it fits seamlessly into your preexisting view of the world. The key here is to pretend that the president is entirely responsible for the instability in the Middle East, and the existence of undocumented immigrants.

There is no question Trump could win the nomination and this Christmas he should send Barack Obama a very nice gift for making that possible,” Fox News host Bill O’Reilly told his viewers back in December. “He simply will not fight the War on Terror in an effective way and folks feel unsafe. Also, he continues to allow people to illegally enter America with impunity.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial board agreed, writing, “President Obama’s insistent failure to confront the realities of global jihad has produced its opposite in Donald Trump’s unfiltered nationalist id.”

2. Richard Nixon

So this one really puts the blame on the entire trajectory of the Republican Party over the past 40 years. But since it’s more satisfying to blame a person than a movement, let’s put this all on tricky Dick.

Back in the late sixties, when the American middle class began its ongoing decline, Richard Nixon discovered a way to get blue-collar whites to join the party of their bosses: Encourage their resentment of cultural elites and racial minorities. The so-called Southern Strategy gave the GOP control over most statehouses below the Mason-Dixon and a decisive advantage in national elections for the next two decades.

In the nineties, former Nixon aide Roger Ailes found that this formula was as good for winning cable-news ratings as it was for winning elections (Rush Limbaugh had already deduced as much in the world of radio.) By the time shifting demographics and George W. Bush’s disastrous tenure helped Barack Obama to the White House, fear and loathing coursed through the Republican base. Right-wing media spent much of the Obama era telling its audience that the president was trying to kill their children with flu shots and their grandparents with death panels, that the betrayer-in-chief was letting unsavory elements pour across the border, and that he was weak (and/or traitorous) on matters of foreign policy.

At the same time, the white working class suffered through the aftermath of a recession that capped four decades of declining living standards. The Week’s Michael Brendan Dougherty has written that the GOP’s response to this struggling population has been, in essence,”Let them eat talk radio shows.”

So is it any wonder that voters who were once content to swallow GOP donors’ agendas with a spoonful of dog whistles are now backing a candidate who speaks the subtext? Is it surprising that they back the man who is the antithesis of everything they’ve been told to hate about Obama — a jingoistic job creator who’s tough on Muslims and “illegals”?

As Mother Jones’s David Corn notes, Trump recently made the heritage of his toxic shtick explicit, borrowing Nixon’s very phrase for the coalition he sought to create:

There is something happening. You know there used to be the expression, many of you have heard it … There’s a silent majority out there. We’re tired of being pushed around, kicked around, and acting and being led by stupid people.”

3. Cowardly plutocrats

Even if the Republican Party did create this monster, you’d think they’d have enough money and political savvy to slay it. After all, Trump should be pretty easy to run a negative-ad campaign against. He used to be “very pro-choice,” once proposed the biggest tax hike in history, has a history of sexual improprieties, contradicts himself several times a day, and has a textbook case of narcissistic-personality disorder.  

But the billionaires who could bankroll that ad campaign have decided to sit this fight out because “they fear a public feud with the insult-spewing media figure,” Politico reports. 

4. All the other terrible candidates

Trump’s opponents have also failed to take him on directly, instead spending most of the race trying to destroy each other, apparently convinced that the Donald would just fade away like a bad dream. Jeb Bush was too low-energy, Marco Rubio too robotic, John Kasich too moderate, Chris Christie too Obama-friendly, Ben Carson too sleepy, Ted Cruz too universally disliked. In an op-ed for CNN, Timothy Staley lays the blame for Trump at the foot of his rivals, writing, “A lack of strong centrist leaders ultimately creates the vacuum that radicalism fills. Blame for Trump lies as much with Bush, Walker, Christie or even Clinton as it does The Donald himself.”

5. Nate Silver

Throughout last summer, even as Trump shot to first in national polls, FiveThirtyEight’s election-forecasting guru assured America that Trump would never be the nominee. He wasn’t alone. Nearly every pundit with a working knowledge of contemporary political science was convinced that Trump couldn’t win because of the historical influence that party Establishments have exerted over the nomination process.

The Washington Post’s Dan Drezner argues that this steady drumbeat of commentary insisting that the Donald’s polling strength was a mirage kept the party pooh-bahs from spending the time and money necessary to nip Trump-mentum in the bud: “They kept reading analysis after analysis in 2015 about how Donald Trump had little chance of winning the GOP nomination,” Drezner writes. “They read smart take after smart take telling them that Trump didn’t have a chance. Even as the media covered Trump, even as late as the South Carolina debate, pundits were also talking about how his latest transgressive comment would doom his chances.”

6. The Buffalo Bills

Shortly before declaring his candidacy last summer, Donald Trump tried and failed to purchase the perennially beleaguered NFL team. According to Syracuse.com’s Matthew Fairburn, “If you ask Trump, missing out on his chance to own an NFL team is what pushed him to go after something bigger.”

If the franchise had just accepted the Donald’s $1 billion offer, Trump would probably be finalizing the designs for “Make the Bills Great Again” trucker hats right now.

7. The Illuminati

8. The Media

Trump trashes the media on a daily basis. At his rallies, he corrals reporters in a pen and then encourages angry supporters to hiss in their direction. And yet, the news business loves him.

In 2015, Trump received more news coverage than the entire Democratic field combined. Earlier this month, MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News all broadcast one of Trump’s routine press conferences, giving the mogul the equivalent of $2.8 million in free airtime, according to the Republican data-analytics firm Optimus Consulting.

Trump isn’t the first rich guy to run for office. But he is the first to realize the weakness in the system, which is that the watchdogs in the political media can’t resist a car wreck,” Matt Taibbi writes in the latest issue of Rolling Stone. “Trump found the flaw in the American Death Star. It doesn’t know how to turn the cameras off, even when it’s filming its own demise.”

For a billionaire, Trump has run an incredibly frugal campaign. The mogul hasn’t spent a single cent on television ads in any of the 12 Super Tuesday states. If cable news (and political blogs) weren’t giving Trump so much free media, it’s unlikely that he’d be willing to spend enough of his own money to achieve the ubiquity he currently enjoys. 

9. Yourself

The media is a business and you are its consumer. We wouldn’t be writing listicles like this if you didn’t click on them. CNN wouldn’t throw up a Breaking News bar every time Trump says something outrageous. But you do.

Let’s face it: You’re enjoying this. There’s some twisted part of you that genuinely wants to see Trump elected. Think of the State of Unions, the meetings with foreign dignitaries, the presidential tweet-storms! If you believe the scientists, the world’s gonna end pretty soon anyway. Why let the rising tides end this party, when you can go out in a very classy dumpster fire? Could anyone blame you for thinking such thoughts? Could you, one day, blame yourself?