In last Thursday’s GOP debate cum snoozefest the soporific Jeb! made headlines for calling out The Donald as the “chaos candidate” who would be a “chaos president.” At least that’s how the media transcribed it.
I’d like to think that Jeb was actually pegging Trump as the “KAOS” candidate, in an homage to the old Get Smart TV series. If I’m right – and I am always right – Bush was slyly suggesting that Trump is the leader of a shadowy organization based in Romania (either for tax purposes or as a convenient source for his next East European ex-wife), while Bush and his ineffectual candidacy are the bumbling but lovable Maxwell Smart and the forces of CONTROL. It’s an interesting analogy – I could totally see Bush taking a call on his shoe, or one lobbed his way from an aggrieved member of the press.
But in his typical ham-handed way, Jeb’s putative insult actually highlights a significant part of Trump’s appeal. The GOP primary to this point can be fairly characterized as the base’s repudiation of the existing order. If the alternative is a continuation of the status quo, a majority of the GOP electorate has registered its belief that an injection of chaos may be just what the system needs.
Contra the Establishment’s howls of protest, there is a scientific method to the base’s madness. In mathematics there is something known as chaos theory, which posits that a small change in inputs in a dynamic system can lead to a wildly different outcome (and the base they wants them a wildly different outcome). This is the so-called butterfly effect, though in this model Trump’s candidacy is not the distant flapping of a butterfly’s wings, but Mothra crash landing in Reince Priebus’s front yard.
This is why the attacks on Trump fail to resonate. We are warned that his personal life and decorum are off-putting, he is a bad-hair-walking crony capitalist, a Hillary-contributing, casino-operating, insulting, reality-TV showboat, a policy dilettante, and just generally a megalomaniacal, publicity-seeking buffoon. Or whatever the slur du jour is. No matter. The more the Establishment stresses his unsuitably as a traditional politico, the more it bolsters his street cred as a disruptive input.
This also explains why a great many conservatives support him even though he is nobody’s idea of a conservative. Sure, he might be true to his word and build a wall on the Mexican border, or he might build an express lane for the 50% of Mexicans who haven’t moved here already. He might nuke the third cousins of suspected terrorists, or he might enter into a gay marriage with Vladimir Putin. Who knows? At least he couldn’t be reliably counted on to sign an omnibus budget deal that sells out every conservative position imaginable while leaving no donor-class wish list unfunded.
Mark Steyn memorably described many of our institutions as “incapable of meaningful course correction.” In Steyn’s telling, the salient difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is that the Democrats are prepared to drive the country over the cliff’s edge with the accelerator pressed to the floor, while the GOP would ease it back to 70 mph or so. To extend the analogy, Trump is the lunatic driver who is likely to wrench the steering wheel to one side and cause the car to roll side-over-side until the battered hulk comes to a rest, hopefully a few feet short of the precipice. This may not count as meaningful course correction, but more and more voters reasonably see it as preferable to the alternative.