With Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich now conceding the obvious, the Republican nominating process enters a different kind of weird space. As Donald Trump assumes the mantle of undisputed leadership of the Republican Party, I anticipate we shall all have some fun house mirror moments.
To be sure, the nominating process so far has been plenty odd. A substantial person -- two-term governor of the third largest state in the union (and the largest swing state), a man with experience and also a warm demeanor, a Republican who speaks fluent Spanish -- that person, former Gov. Jeb Bush, was gone by the third contest, the South Carolina primary. We have had flaky candidates before, such as Herman Cain, but they flashed out as quickly as they came, but not this time. Sen. Ted Cruz became the focus of establishment support, a development almost as remarkable as Trump's ascendancy. The anti-establishment wing of the party, which has complained for eight years that the GOP lost to Obama because it did not nominate a real conservative, did not embrace a real conservative, but a businessman who rarely speaks about the socially conservative issues that drove the anti-establishment base. The GOP, which desperately needs to do better among Latino voters, ended up choosing a candidate whose rise began by suggesting that Mexican immigrants are mostly criminals and rapists. And, the winning candidate consistently spent less money than his opponents. Odd, odd, odd.
But, now it is going to get weird. Now, the unlikely candidate begins doing things that are expected. Mr. Trump will head to Capitol Hill and meet with congressional leaders. Stories about the contested convention will be shelved and Trump's team will begin meeting with the Republican National Committee to plan the less tantalizing theatrics of a convention designed as a coronation. We will see photos of and stories about the candidates on Trump's short list to become his running mate. In July, he will stand at the podium in Cleveland and accept his party's nomination. We have seen all this before. Now, we will see it with Trump in the starring role. A different set of questions emerge.
Will congressional leaders embrace Trump? Will they run from him or embrace him? Already, some incumbents on the ballot this year are indicating they will vote for him but are not endorsing him, as if there is much of a difference, as if that question will not dog them from now until election day. It is as if they think they can really dodge the question and avoid alienating either the GOP base, which awarded Trump the nomination (and is sure to turn out in November), or alienating the suburban moms who loathe Trump and that ever slimmer share of the GOP that remembers the likes of Jacob Javits and John Lindsay with fondness.
If a Trump casino is always more vulgar than your usual casino, and they are, which is really saying something, what will the GOP convention look like? We are used to balloons and signs and flags. Will Trump's name be blazoned on the hall the way he puts it on his businesses? And, when he speaks to the convention and accepts the nomination, will he indulge his stream of consciousness rants, which brought him this far, or will he become comfortable with a teleprompter? And, perhaps the weirdest question of all: Will Trump develop the ability to convey gravitas or even seriousness?
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Who is going to want to be Trump's running mate? He indicated yesterday he intends to pick a politician, which makes sense for him, but does it make sense for any politician who aspires to a future in politics? I suppose there may be some politicians who would be content sticking by Trump, losing horribly, and having a billionaire friend for life. But, if you are one of those people who really want to be president, running by Trump's side may not set you up well for next time.
Every once in awhile, Trump says he can be "presidential" but, then, within less than 24 hours, he is tweeting something offensive, or mocking a minority, or saying that being presidential would be boring. Everyone has said this election cycle has been unpredictable, which is certainly the truth. But now there are certain rituals, certain procedures, that are predictable. How will the unpredictable Trump meld with that? That admixture is why the next few months are going to be not only odd, but weird.
None of the above touches on the profound moral questions Trump's ascendancy raises. We will pick up that thread tomorrow.
[Michael Sean Winters is a Visiting Fellow at Catholic University's Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.]