The day of the first Presidential debate. Going out a bit on a limb, I'm predicting that Trump will be widely seen as the debate winner. The debate format works against a reasonable discussion about issues; it is all about one-liners and character attacks. Hence, an environment favorable to a circus performer like Trump. Of course, Hillary is a tough campaigner, and she will have around ninety minutes to rattle Trump's cage. Judging by her past performances, however, it seems unlikely she will set the place on fire.
It was fun during the primaries to watch the Republican establishment try to come to grips with the Trump phenomenon. I suggested then that the best strategy for Trump's Republican opponents was to back Hillary. It seemed an obvious alternative. If elected, Clinton is unlikely to rock the boat significantly. And, with what would amount to an Obama third term and small Democratic congressional gains, the Republicans would be able to go on playing their same obstructionist game at the Federal level while further tightening their grip on State Houses.
Quite a few main-line Republicans adopted my suggested strategy to back Clinton. However, as Trump's candidacy became increasingly viable, a strategic change got under way among the Republican leadership. The big shots may not be singing praises to Trump, but the party machine is backing him. The Republicans in office are seeing the possibility that Trump could take office, and speaking out against him at this point raises a clear risk of being out of the loop following a Trump victory.
Of course, nobody in their right mind thinks Trump would be a competent President. He is wholly inexperienced in techniques of governance and ignorant about any of the important issues. Being a bully with money got him the nomination, but that is not going to work for the daily challenge of running the country. So, what is the Republican establishment thinking will happen with Trump in the oval office?
My guess is that they are preparing for two scenarios. The first would be something along the lines of the Bush presidency. People who have some experience and competence in governance will be moved into key positions, much as Cheney took over foreign affairs and energy policy. Trump would then be free to occupy a largely ceremonial role as chief cheer leader -- provided, that is, that he could actually exercise some self control and not completely go off the rails. Even without those not unlikely missteps Trump's mere presence as chief of state will create a world of uncertainty. Other world leaders, reacting to Trump's unpredictability will take actions based on fears or perceived advantage which will create some truly terrifying international crises. It is not hard to imagine, for instance, that Putin will see Trump's ascendancy as an opportunity to undertake an immediate invasion of Ukraine.
The other scenario likely envisioned by the Republican leadership is impeachment. Even without the likely foreign policy or economic disasters to be expected from a Trump presidency, it will likely not be hard to find some pretext for kicking the clown out of office, and it certainly would not be hard to put together a bipartisan effort to do the deed. The outcome of a successful impeachment would be a President Pence. So, now the Republicans have someone in office who has the skills and experience to enact the Republican agenda -- moving the Supreme Court back to the right, stalling climate change action, supporting big energy, big pharma and big banks, and solidifying the blockade of women's rights. Etc.
The next day:
Trump turned in a poor performance. I don't know that will lose him any votes among his current supporters. My sense is that they see Trump as what they might be if only they could win the lottery -- still ignorant and inarticulate, but insanely rich.