Trump is the presumptive GOP nominee. Please let that shock you

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. Let’s look back at the week in Opinion.

Donald Trump won the GOP primary in New Hampshire on Tuesday. Republicans, Trump-skeptical ones too, are falling in line. Party leaders even considered declaring the former president their nominee this week.

Two tiny states into the primary campaign, Trump is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

I know the story of Trump’s march to a third GOP nomination barely registered among those who’ve closely followed political news since 2015 — but still, please let it surprise you. Please let the fact that a man who tried to topple American democracy on Jan. 6, 2021, is now the second-most likely person to lead it after noon on Jan. 20, 2025, shake you to your core. German democracy held out for nine years after Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch in 1923; Trump’s likely nomination puts us on course to halve the time it took Germany to empower (or in our case, re-empower) its fascist leader of a failed coup.

Polls have shown the likelihood of this outcome for months now, but to experience the passing of yet another milestone on the way to authoritarianism in America — and make no mistake, Trump himself is saying that’s exactly where he’ll take us — ought to unnerve anyone who took a high school history or government class.

Alarm is all I’ve got after this dark week for American democracy. The Times’ editorial board marks this moment with a little more analysis than I can muster for something so abominable, but its assessment is no less pessimistic than mine:

“It seems that many Republican voters — and the craven politicians who want to stay on their good side — are inured to the arguments against a Trump nomination. They remain wedded to the former president despite his two impeachments, despite his complicity in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol and despite his threat to exact ‘retribution’ on behalf of his supposedly ill-treated supporters. (Trump later said, not reassuringly, that ‘I’m not going to have time for retribution.’) This is alarming, even if one believes that Biden can successfully leverage concerns about Trump’s conduct and temperament to eke out a victory in November.

“Given the unpredictability of events, it is ominous that one of the two major parties would nominate such a manifestly unfit demagogue for the presidency. But that is where America finds itself.”

Panicking over polls showing Donald Trump ahead of President Biden? Please stop. As I said, Trump right now is the second-most likely person to be president next year, an alarming fact on its own. But, pollster Cornell Belcher tells us to put more faith in voters than the surveys might suggest we deserve: “While horse race numbers are fluid and changeable, voters’ core values and beliefs are not. Good pollsters look beyond the top line to understand how voters make sense of and give order to their lives so we can show them that our candidate can be trusted.”

We could be at the start of the worst political year ever. But, says columnist Jackie Calmes, there’s good reason to hope voters will not elect Trump in November: “Early surveys suggest Biden has the edge with swing voters; last month a New York Times poll gave him a 50% to 38% lead among independents. Even Trump’s former press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, warned Tuesday night on Fox News that he is alienating too many Republicans and independents.”

The Republican presidential primary has been nothing but a giant grift. Kurt Bardella, a former Republican advisor-turned-Democratric strategist, says the Republican contest was really over months ago, when Trump blew off the first GOP debate in August: “From this point forward, these campaigns were nothing more than a giant grift. At best, they were a farcical charade designed to compete for a spot in the Trump Cabinet. At worst, they were an exercise in vanity.”

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Do you love avocados? Do you know what that’s doing to Mexico? Food fads don’t come without consequences, and the year-round clamor for avocados in the U.S. is imposing several on Mexico, writes human rights lawyer Max Schoening: “Over the last year, I visited more than 25 communities in Michoacán and Jalisco, two mountainous states in western Mexico that supply 4 out of 5 avocados sold in the United States. My research there found that expanding avocado production to meet U.S. demand is fueling widespread deforestation and water scarcity.

If you want to leave, fine. But don’t insult California on the way out. I wrote a short piece asking for some goodwill from people moving out of the state, and it set off a round of mockery in right-wing media. Oh, well — enjoy your anger then.

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