By Dan Phillips
In light of Donald Trump’s victory, I hope we can finally put to rest an argument that I, as a Trump supporter, have had to deal with repeatedly during the course of the campaign. If you are one of the conservatives who espoused the conspiracy theory that Trump was really a Hillary plant put forward to deliberately take a dive for her, perhaps you should never offer commentary on any political issue ever again. His victory exposes that theory as the absurdity that it always was.
I am careful not to either reflexively reject or accept conspiracy theories. I try to keep an open mind and examine the evidence. The first test of a conspiracy theory or any other sort of alternative explanation is whether it is superficially plausible. That a cabal of elites attempt to influence and manipulate affairs in a manner that enriches them is superficially plausible. That the world is secretly ruled by lizard people who operate from a hollow spaceship moon is not. While the “Trump is a Democrat plant” theory is not quite spaceship moon level implausible, it never did come close to passing the initial smell test.
Some die-hard defenders of this theory have latched onto the fact that there are some Wikileak emails that indicate the Democrats preferred Trump to be the Republican nominee because they considered him vulnerable. What an epic miscalculation that was, but that is a far cry from proving that Trump was a deliberate plant.
Think carefully about what was really being suggested here. The suggestion was that the Clintons (Bill is also usually invoked in this scenario) and/or the Clinton team conspired with Trump prior to his campaign announcement, for Trump to enter the race for the purpose of altering the contest in some way that would advantage Hillary. Presumably, in the minds of most people who put forward the theory, the plan was for Trump to capture the GOP nomination and then tank the general for her, but it doesn’t have to be that specific. Perhaps they just wanted him to clown it up in the primary and discredit the Republicans or lead GOP primary voters ideologically astray so as to damage the conservative cause/brand. The more specific the allegation, such as winning the GOP primary, the more potential contingencies that had to be accounted for and overcome.
So in other words, what they were suggesting is that Trump agreed to be Hillary Clinton’s boy. (I could put this in a cruder manner, but this is a family website.) Many of the aspects of the Trump persona that are supposedly character – he’s a misogynist, a narcissist, thin-skinned, a bully, a faux alpha, a flip-flopper, blah, blah, blah… – are all reasons it has always been absurd to believe that Trump would deliberately punk himself out to Hillary.
A second question to ask when examining the plausibility of a conspiracy theory is “cui bono?” Of course Clinton would have benefitted from this deal, but what would Trump have gotten out of it? Because the Clinton’s and he were just that tight and he wanted to do Hillary a solid? Because he was so committed to the Democratic agenda? The only remotely plausible explanation would be that the Clintons had something really bad on him, but if that’s the case, why didn’t they drop it in the last weeks of the campaign? Because they are people of honor and were keeping their word to keep it under wraps if he ran? Just think about this scenario for a while. If the Trump campaign proved anything, it’s that Trump is nobody’s boy.
Yet, that Trump was a Hillary plant was trotted out in online conversation after conversation I had with NeverTrumpers as if it was a well-accepted fact. Even NeverTrump luminary Erick Erickson endorsed this ridiculous theory. The primary evidence for this far-fetched theory was that Trump and Bill were golfing buddies, the Clinton’s attended Ivanka’s wedding, a fact Trump readily admitted he essentially paid for, and Bill Clinton allegedly spoke with Trump by phone shortly before he announced. Even if the latter is true, which I don’t necessarily doubt, so what? The perpetuation of this absurd conspiracy theory illustrates as well as anything the bubble that so many movement conservatives live in.
Trump’s friendship with the Clinton’s and unfortunate past campaign contributions to Hillary were part of the equation, but most anti-Trumpers who I saw put forth this theory really did seem to believe that Trump was a full-fledged liberal and a “life-long Democrat” who was doing this for the cause. This is astoundingly disconnected from what we knew about Trump. The movement con bubble renders those who live within it seemingly impervious to reality. Only to a conservative movement ideologue could the fact that Trump isn’t a paint by the numbers conservative be considered as proof positive that he agreed, at great personal sacrifice to his wealth and reputation and contrary to all we know about his personality both good and bad, to take a dive for Hillary because he’s just that committed to the perpetuation of liberalism and the Democrat Party. To the movement con mind, since Trump wasn’t a check box three-legs-of-the-stool movement con, then he must be a liberal and a Democrat plant in league with Hillary Clinton, and his presence in the Republican primary was necessarily under false pretenses. This is remarkably un-nuanced.
In fact, if they had bothered to do just a little research, they would have discovered that Trump has long identified primarily with the Republican Party, including Ronald Reagan who was President when Trump first rose to national prominence, and even considered seeking the Republican nomination in 1988. He considered seeking the Reform Party nomination in 2000, a fact that is very important in understanding Trump’s politics, and identified most closely with the Democrat Party in the early 2000s primarily in opposition to George W. Bush and the Iraq War.
Far from being a liberal or a ‘lifelong” Democrat, Trump is best understood as a manifestation of the Radical Center, and his campaign has resonated most successfully with Middle American Radicals (MARs), a relatively large and well-described demographic group that is not well represented by either party. Is it really that puzzling that they would respond enthusiastically to the first candidate in several cycles who was voicing their concerns?
Movement con bubble dwellers simply couldn’t come to terms with the fact that many in the Republican base weren’t movement con ideologues like themselves and actually liked Trump’s more populist and nationalist message, so instead they concocted a bizarre conspiracy theory about Trump being a Democrat plant to explain the fact that reality wasn’t according with the movement con narrative. I trust that Trump’s victory has relegated the “Trump is a Hillary plant” conspiracy theory to the dustbin of history where it so rightly belongs, and hopefully movement con bubble thinkers will come to realize that not everything fits into nice and tidy Red and Blue boxes. Unfortunately, I doubt many, including the aforementioned Erick Erickson, will heed my advice to give up commentating on the issues altogether, but hopefully they will at least feel a little bit chastened.